Why can't women join Freemasonry?
Although there is some evidence that there were a few female operativemasons in England and France, long before organised speculativeFreemasonry began in England in 1717, one of the earliest rules of organised Freemasonry (1723) was ‘no women’, and this rule has become enshrined in the ‘Landmarks’ of the Order. (See ‘A brief history of the Masonic Order’, in Section Two, for more about ‘Landmarks’, and ‘Summary of the Antient Charges and Regulations’ regarding ‘innovations’.) For that reason, women cannot be members of their husband’s lodges, in the Freemasonry that is the subject of this booklet.
However, there have been lodges, and even Grand Lodges, which have defied this rule and initiated women. From this ‘irregular’ beginning, Grand Lodges have emerged for women-only, and some for mixed-gender lodges. The ‘mainstream’ masculine Order, adhering to the rule, does not ‘recognise’ these groups as being truly Masonic, and does not permit its members to have ‘Masonic’ contact with them, upon pain of expulsion. That said, there are mixed-gender lodges in every mainland State of Australia, belonging to the Australian Federation of the International Order of Co-Freemasonry, le Droit Humain, and in Adelaide there are also women-only lodges of the English-based Order of Women Freemasons. Some wives and female relatives of mainstream Masons belong to one or other of these Orders, and work much the same ceremonies as their ‘mainstream’ menfolk.
There are also groups tolerated, or even encouraged by, ‘mainstream’ Grand Lodges, which cater separately for boys, girls, and men and women. These do not work a ‘Masonic’ ritual as such, but they (mostly) restrict membership to Freemasons and their family members. Best known of these are the Orders of: De Molay (for boys), the Rainbow (for girls) and the Eastern Star (for women and Masons). These are found in most Australian States, and are particularly strong in their country of origin, the United States of America.
Can women be involved in men's Freemasonry?
Women can be involved in their menfolk’s Freemasonry, if they wish, on the social side, in charitable work, and in a range of other activities, depending on the individual lodge and its involvement beyond the formal lodge meetings. Some lodges still rely on the wives/partners of members to prepare the meals held after lodge meetings, and some invite the womenfolk to share these meals. Other lodges have catered meals, and may also invite spouses. Many lodges have a social program spread across the year, which may include cocktail parties, barbeques, social dinners, picnics, film nights, and other events.