I remember the week I was initiated as an Entered Apprentice. I was proud, as was my wife, and one of us mentioned it on Facebook. No sooner did we do that, than did one of my wife’s friends take me to task for being in a group of misogynistic pancake flippers.
I was taken aback because even though I grew up in a time where lawyers were integrating every possible institution, I never really considered men-only Masonry to be very controversial. I had said, somewhat ignorantly, that the stuff we talk about and learn isn’t really relevant to women. She disagreed. Now I think she was right. Though she was extremely rude and uninformed, Masonry is perfectly relevant to women. So why are women excluded?
Another encounter I had with a woman about Masonry shed some light on that. She claimed that she would never, ever be comfortable with her husband becoming a Mason, because she couldn’t stand him keeping secrets from her. I told her that the secrets of Masonry were a bit overblown. In practice, Masonic secrets (words, signs, handshakes, ritual) is kept secret so Masons can more easily identify other Masons. In a way, Masons are pre-screened friends. There’s a much better chance that a Mason you meet is a decent sort of guy with similar values to yourself than the average guy on the street or coworker. And there’s a better than average chance that if you tell him something private, it will stay private. After all, what you say to your doctor, your lawyer, or your therapist is private, because they take an oath, and there are repercussions for betraying that privacy. It’s the same with Masonry. In fact, one could argue that Masonry, in this sense, was the precursor to therapy. Men could open up to each other.
This is something that I brought up to the woman, but shockingly it had no impact on her thought process, and she’s not the only example I’ve seen of this way of thinking. Yes, if her husband was a psychologist, she would expect him to tell her about his patients if she asked. If her husband worked for the CIA, she would expect her husband to tell her State secrets if she asked. And if her husband was unable to do that, then he shouldn’t have one of those jobs. And if he wasn’t prepared to reveal the private conversations of his lodge brothers, then no, he shouldn’t be a Freemason.
I won’t say that all, or even most, women are like this. My wife completely understands the need for privacy, but on the other hand, I’ve seen her yucking it up with friends about some embarrassing story or another from my past. She doesn’t always get why I wouldn’t want her to tell her best friends. And we’ve debated an interesting concept called “spousal exception” before, that I find sort of baffling.
I can’t speculate on why some women think this, but it seems obvious to me that despite what my college professors tried to tell me, men and women really are different creatures. And so, because of this, I really do think it’s appropriate to, at times, allow them time with their own kind.
Men sometimes need the exclusive company of other men. We certainly aren’t all the same; we all have different thoughts, opinions, and values. However, in general, we act much differently around other men than we act around women. The simple fact is that men always have, and always will, alter their behavior – what they say, do, and even think – to impress girls. Being in the company of men, exclusively, can give men a chance to be their authentic self. That’s not to say, of course, that all, or even most, Masons take advantage of the opportunity. I’m still not myself at lodge, but becoming one’s authentic self is a long journey. And, of course, a Masonic lodge isn’t just a place for men to be themselves. Men have different expectations of other men than do women, and so lodge becomes a place, as they say in the brochures, where men can learn to be better men, and then the better enabled to support their family, friends, and vocations.
If membership in a Masonic lodge afforded men a particular advantage in life that was otherwise unavailable to women, my thoughts on the matter might be different, but as I believe it offers nothing that women cannot get, and better tailored to them, in other organizations, giving men this one allowance–to be in the company of other men, and in an environment where they can discover their own place in this world within their circumscribed bounds–is not only permissible, but beneficial to men, women, and the world at large.