This is where I get myself into trouble — I ask the question as to why this is so. "It's the way we've always done it" isn't good enough. Saying it's a Landmark isn't an answer either. WHY is it a Landmark? Are these timeless axioms arbitrary and without reason? Were they communicated to Preston and Webb's forbears directly by God and are therefore above contestation? Or is there some aspect of male psychology and spirituality embodied in Masonry that is unbefitting to be experienced by a female? Are there any Masonic virtues unique to the male of our species? There must be another answer.
There have been many, MANY enumerations of Masonic Landmarks over the centuries, from differing versions of the Old Charges to the myriad Constitutions of various jurisdictions. My Grand Lodge of the State of New York has no specific official list at all. They seem to be more than words, but understandings, and many of those understandings have either changed or been lost to time. There was a time someone lame or maimed would be excluded from the Craft, for example — something that was rethought and reworked after so many people returned "unwhole" from The Great War a century ago. On another note, Entered Apprentices no longer study for seven years. But these are reframing of the Landmarks from Operative to Speculative considerations.
More to the point, we find the term "free-born" has had to be interpreted and sometimes reworded in more recent times. The Prince Hall ritual I've seen uses the term "free man", and many jurisdictions across the world omit the word "born". This distinction has been used in early American Masonic history to justify racial exclusion and non-recognition. When taken literally, does the legal or social status of a baby truly have a bearing on their ability to do true Masonic work as a man? Or is there some other reason for the necessity of this declaration before receiving the Degrees?
The answer may be more obvious than we realize. A slave could not enter into a contract, and the son of a slave – according to many laws in older times – commonly bore a similar legal restriction. If you were too young, you could not enter into anything binding by yourself. If you were not of sound mind, or an old man in dotage, your promises were contestible or outright void.
Do you know what else precluded you at the time the ritual was written from choosing of your own free will and accord? Being a woman. If you were a woman in the Western World of the 18th Century (and well after), you simply could not be trusted any more than a slave to give consent over your own matters. Your obligations weren't binding. It would be like trusting the oath of an atheist swearing on the Bible, or the promise of a drunken libertine.
Yet we argue over whether or not women in women's jurisdictions are really Masons. We dole out Eastern Star, Amaranth, and other such groups like some sort of consolation prize. From experience (my wife and I were Matron and Patron of our local Star chapter) I can tell you some of the older ladies are alright with seeing themselves as part of an auxiliary to the men. To younger women, it's offensive, even if the unpredictable prohibitions against wearing slacks don't drive away new members. Needing a man present for women to meet was normal 150 years ago, and meeting at all in such a way was ahead of its time — today, not so much. Some jurisdictions even consider the OES clandestine and women's Lodges as regular. But none of these conversations address the actual thinking behind any of this.
I still think there is a place for men-only Lodges. I respect some people's needs to learn what it is to be a "man", even if I am not sure if I or anyone really knows what that's supposed to mean. But I don't think that was why Masonry was invented. And I would suggest it's not just possible, but necessary to learn to be a better man from more than just other men. The women in our lives can have an equally profound impact on our character and perceived social roles. And most importantly, men and Masonry cannot go into the future by themselves and expect to survive. Heck, we aren't even allowed to meet on college campuses because of Title IX considerations. What does this say about us? It took us TWO HUNDRED YEARS for most of us to come to grips with Prince Hall Masons. Are we to wait another hundred years before at least fully recognizing Women Lodges and Co-Masonry?
The question "why" isn't going away. The old answers aren't acceptable anymore, if they ever were. Traditional Masonry and women's and youth organizations in the Masonic Family must all play catch-up to ensure Freemasonry is pertinent to the realities of modern society. Like I always say about the future of the Craft — we're all going to get there together, or not at all. And that starts by asking "why" the Masonry we believe in so much is reserved for one half of humanity and not the other.
Bro. Ken JP Stuczynski is a member of West Seneca Lodge No.1111 and recently served as Master of Ken-Ton Lodge No.1186. As webmaster for NYMasons.Org he is on the Communications and Technology Committees for the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. He is also a Royal Arch Mason and 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, serving his second term as Sovereign Prince of Palmoni Council in the Valley of Buffalo, NMJ. He also coordinates a Downtown Square Club monthly lunch in Buffalo, NY. He and his wife served as Patron and Matron of Pond Chapter No.853 Order of the Eastern Star and considered himself a “Masonic Feminist”.