Is Freemasonry Sexist?

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I’ve always been fascinated by secret societies and any organizations that tend to have “secret teachings”. The Freemasons specifically have always been an object of curiosity for me. I have always been tempted to join the Freemasons and work my way up the 33 degrees of their Scottish Rite path, because I would love to know what they actually teach for myself. However, because I am a woman and have a vagina instead of a penis, that isn’t allowed.

I knew that Freemasons have a history of excluding women, but wasn’t sure where they stood today, so I reached out to our local Freemason branch to see if they have any programs for women and received this in reply:

“We do not allow women to join our fraternity. We have always been a fraternity which, by definition, is for men only.

There are so-called “co-masonic” groups which you could research on the web. But we are not in any way related to those groups nor do we recognize them as Freemasons.”

How can a religious group with so much influence and power in our world entirely exclude women? This isn’t just some little college fraternity – look into the history of the Freemasons and see their influence and scope! This organization was enormously influential in the formation of our country and many of their symbols reside on our money and other government institutions to this day! They claim to possess important esoteric knowledge, and yet refuse to share any of that with half of the human species?

I hope this doesn’t seem petty or stupid to you guys, but it seriously annoys me. I know other religions are sexist. In the Catholic church, a woman still can’t be a priest (although they should rethink that, perhaps women priests wouldn’t molest all the altar boys), but at least they allow women to be Catholics in the first place!

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Why “Mockingjay” (the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy) depressed me

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After seeing the Mockingjay Part 1 movie in theatres, I finally decided to read the entire Hunger Games trilogy. I had read bits of it in the past, enough to know the main plot of each book, but I had never really sat down and read them all cover to cover. Last night I finished the last book in the series. And I must admit that after I turned the final page, I found myself deeply depressed. To me, the last book was very much a downer, even more so than the previous two books.

So, I sat in our library looking at our darkened Christmas tree and wondering why I felt so morose. I finally decided there were several reasons I found the conclusion of the series so disturbing. First, it felt like the last book was filled with the agony of multitudes dying, often for no good reason (as is the reality in war). In the first two books, most of the deaths were related to the tributes participating in the Hunger Games or were the slow, gradual kind of deaths caused by the perils of poverty. In Mockingjay, the deaths seemed constant throughout, not just a few people here and a few there. Understandably, the thought of mass death and the destruction of the world all around us causes immense despair, even if only on a subconscious level.

Another issue was the very real idea that no matter how many immoral and violent governments, presidents, dictators and groups we remove from power or destroy, there are always just as many waiting in the wings to dole out their own brand of pain and injustice. Even at the end of the book when things seem a bit more hopeful, we know that the world is not safe and secure. The world is never actually safe and secure, no matter how much we may choose to live in denial. Even among those brave enough to rebel against injustice and evil, you will find cruelty, deception and betrayal. Many of those people don’t even realize that they are no better than the enemy they seek to destroy. Vengeance and victory may give us a brief respite, but eventually the same old problems seem to find their way back.

Lastly, it is incredibly depressing how war leaves those who survive broken. Maybe not always physically (although there is plenty of that), but deep down on the inside, the trauma of warfare leaves many human beings irrevocably damaged. Survivors are left with wounds that cannot help but affect the next generation, sometimes starting unending cycles of mental illness and abuse. Often hatred and bias is passed down much the same way, even if it is done so with millions of seemingly insignificant words and attitudes. If we could truly see the damage done by war throughout all space and time, we would probably be shocked by how far the effects trickle down.

After thinking about all that, I guess it is no wonder I found myself discouraged. Perhaps the worst part of all though is that when it comes to fighting for freedom and justice, we are often damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Sexism and intelligence – I am not stupid or inferior just because I am a woman

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This may surprise some people that know me, but I tend to tick people off. Not intentionally of course, but it still happens. I think it may be partly because I am honest and sometimes even blunt. I try to be politically correct and polite, but I am also someone who gets to the heart of the matter quickly and tends to see things with unusual or unpopular views. I try to never stoop down to personal attacks or name-calling, but I won’t hide who I am either. One thing has started bothering me though and that is the fact that sometimes I think the majority of the anger directed at me may be because I am female.

I hate to play the “sexism” card, but there are things that have happened repeatedly that make me wonder. For instance, some folks at our old church and a few extended family members have disagreed with me on different subjects, which is fine. However, they took the disagreements to a personal level that hurt. Some of them said some pretty awful things about me – some of them publicly. However, what made me think that their anger may be due to me being a woman is that my husband said the EXACT same things I said and sometimes even more controversial things but he didn’t get the same hate and anger I got. In fact, the most negative thing they would say to him is that they don’t understand why he doesn’t “control his wife”. Of course, my response to that is what do they expect my husband to do? Beat me until I shut up and agree with them? Sometimes that is how it came off.

Another thing that makes me think that my gender may be a culprit is that when I engage in an intellectual conversation with other people and a disagreement arises, I often start getting called names like “bitch”. Some have claimed that I must think I’m a queen and should quit trying to rule. Again, these are simply over differences of opinion. None of these labels or insults are thrown at my husband or other men having similar conversations (at least not that I’ve witnessed). When I passionately argue a viewpoint I am “too opinionated” and “mouthy”, however, my husband can say the exact same things and he is “smart” and “intellectual”. The kinder people just call me “naïve” or say that I “misunderstand”, but that is still a way of patronizing someone.

I’m not saying that I’m not opinionated (I am) or that I am always right (I like to think I am, but I know I’m not). All I am saying is that the double standard for intelligent thought for men and women is unfair. The personal attacks are hurtful and unnecessary for a simple difference of opinion. I will not “sit down and shut up” or “go to the kitchen where I belong”, but if you address me as an equal, I will listen and consider what you say. I only ask the same in return.  

Admit that you can be prejudiced…

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I know this is a sensitive subject, but I want to be honest about it. First off, I know that the last thing anyone wants to admit to is having a racist or prejudiced thought. For some reason, we think that if we have a wayward thought or idea about this subject even once in a while that it automatically puts us in the company of the KKK or other hate groups. However, I believe that if we live long enough, all of us will have at least occasional prejudiced/racist/stereotypical thoughts or ideas. It is unfortunately a part of living in the culture we exist in. By pretending that we never have these ideas, we are actually making the problem worse, not better. If we could identify our prejudiced or stereotypical thoughts and recognize them for what they are, then we could consciously decide to change those beliefs and ideas. That is the way we could really get rid of the damaging effects of prejudice.

For instance, most of us have at least some stereotypical beliefs. Even positive ones (like that Asians are all super smart or that African Americans are better athletes) are still stereotypes. I admit that I occasionally have stereotypical beliefs, so when I do, I have to consciously grab them and think them through to decide whether they are really true or not. For instance, watching the news makes it easy for me to think that all conservatives look down on the poor and are greedy. Of course, this is not always true, but it is a stereotype I see frequently. On the other side, I know many people stereotype liberals as being wimpy and lazy. The trouble is that most of the time these beliefs are not critically analyzed and we only look at one side of the story (the one we happen to agree with). We are all victims of bias and perception, but we refuse to see it.

As a child, I honestly do not remember prejudice or racism. I grew up in an urban Indiana neighborhood that was very much a melting pot. My elementary school was probably at least 50% minority, although back then I never even thought about that kind of stuff. My mom dated guys outside of her race and for a while one of those guys was like a second father to me and lived with us. My older sister’s first real boyfriend was from a minority as well. I think my first real look at prejudice came around the age of 11 when I moved to a small town in Georgia. In this small town minorities were rare and in my middle and high school, racism definitely existed. Most minorities stuck to their own kind. There wasn’t a lot of intermixing and the town was almost set up in a segregated fashion (clearly marked minority neighborhoods and even a separate cemetery for non-whites). This new culture was certainly a shock to me, as were some of the hateful comments I heard. Of course, these people would have denied being prejudiced if confronted, but behind the scenes they were definitely not shy about their beliefs.

As an adult, I definitely try to be open-minded and not stereotype people or groups, but I will admit that I am not perfect. For instance, one night I remember my husband and I going to a local White Castle and noticing that we were the only “white” people in the crowded restaurant. I hate to admit it, but I experienced some momentary discomfort and just felt kind of “out of place”. However, as I sat there, I thought about the fact that minorities probably often find themselves in this kind of situation. I’m used to looking around and seeing lots of other people who look like me, but many others don’t regularly have that experience. Thinking the issue through, truly gave me an entirely new perspective and made me sympathize with those who often find themselves surrounded by others who are different from them in some way.

I’ll also admit that the first time we took in a foster child from a minority that I was a little more anxious than I should have been. When we accepted that foster placement, we didn’t even know he was from a minority, so when I first saw him I was surprised a bit and also a little worried. My first thoughts were to question whether I could do a good job raising someone from a different culture, however, once the child moved in and we got to know him it was soon clear that underneath the exterior differences he was just like every other kid we had taken in. Soon I was going to bat for him against others who were stereotyping him or treating him like he didn’t exist.

In the end, my point is that when we do have thoughts or experiences that bring out the “prejudice” or “racism” hidden inside of us, it can be an opportunity to learn and grow if we face it head on and think things through. However, if we just sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist, we only help to perpetuate the problem.

A Sad Tribute to Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar

Last weekend my husband and I visited the Paul Laurence Dunbar House here in Dayton, Ohio. Being a poet myself I have wanted to check out the historical site for a while. When we arrived, I was happy to see quite a few others there, including several kids. I noticed that we were the only “white” people there (other than the tour guide), but I hoped that was just coincidence and didn’t mean that people from different ethnic backgrounds ignored this part of history. I have noticed over the years that many people tend to only care about the history of their particular heritage, which I find sad. There is so much to be learned by experiencing different cultures and studying the lives of people from all kinds of backgrounds.

Before we toured Paul’s house, we all watched a mini documentary on the life and times of Paul Laurence Dunbar. As the film went on, I began to feel worse and worse. They talked about how Paul was highly educated for his time, even becoming class president and the founding editor of his high school newspaper, but was still denied jobs in the fields he studied, because as they put it, “an uneducated white man was still considered better than an educated negro”. Paul eventually had to take a lowly job as an elevator operator. They went on to explain how even though Paul did eventually gain some notoriety as a poet, he was truly saddened because the public refused to notice his deeper, more thoughtful poems written in standard English and instead only celebrated the lighthearted ethnic “dialect” poetry. Even worse, they used his poems to back up their belief that African Americans were not as smart or important as “white folks” and even worse, that they had actually enjoyed being slaves.

When we walked over to the house, the tour guide explained that Paul and his family were the first African Americans to move into this nicer part of town (much to the dismay of some in the neighborhood). Most of the people of his race were forced to live in the “ghetto” in little shanty homes that were nothing more than thrown together huts. As I listened to all this I looked at the faces of the sweet, innocent kids around me. I felt awful that they have to live in a world where this kind of prejudice once existed (and still exists), even if the circumstances have gotten better since Paul’s day. I know it isn’t my fault and that I didn’t cause it, but I felt awful that my ancestors were likely a part of the society that so mistreated (and continues to mistreat) an entire race of people.

I could write about some of the other unfair things that were talked about, like the Dunbar family’s slavery background or how African Americans soldiers were considered “good to stop a bullet” but not good enough to be appreciated…however, I think a few of Paul’s words capture the frustration and unfairness best –

I know why the caged bird beats his wing

Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

For he must fly back to his perch and cling

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars

And they pulse again with a keener sting –

I know why he beats his wing!

Sometimes karma comes around sooner than you think…a personal story

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I’ve always found the subject of karma interesting. The whole what-goes-around-comes-around belief. You reap what you sow. To some extent I definitely believe this, although I do believe true forgiveness and grace can overcome negative karma.

Anyhow, today I want to talk about a personal experience of karma showing up a lot sooner than I expected. The story starts about 9 or 10 years ago when my husband first started working in special education. Back then I was young, still very much learning, somewhat more judgemental and sometimes just outright stupid. My husband would come home and tell me about the severely autistic kids he worked with. Some of these kids were exceptionally low-functioning and couldn’t speak or do much of anything for themselves. My husband loved them very much, but even though I am ashamed to admit it, I had some pretty negative thoughts.

Having never (up until that point) known anyone diagnosed with autism, I wondered what kind of lives these kids could have. Was it really worth educating them I wondered when some of them tried to eat their schoolwork rather than doing it? I am mortified to admit I was so ignorant and hateful, but I even wondered if they weren’t just a drain on society. Over time my views did start to shift, especially as I got to know more of these kids myself and spent time with them. It also amused me how as my husband worked with them more and more, he would laughingly comment that he thought I might be autistic. I thought he was joking. In a way he was, but in another way he definitely wasn’t.

Then came the day a few years ago when I read a book about a high-functioning autistic girl. I saw myself in page after page and was amazed. Here was someone so much like me! I saw myself in the sensory issues. I saw myself in the social issues. I saw myself in the stimming and the obsessive interests and the odd way of thinking about the world. Eventually, this led up to me being tested for autism and (surprise, surprise) I was autistic myself and always had been without even knowing it. I was one of those people I had once judged so harshly. Yeah, I might be higher functioning, but I have many of the VERY SAME issues! If that isn’t the irony of karma…I don’t know what is!

Now I am proud to say I am more empathetic to disabled people of all kinds. I stand up for the rights of others who get put down. I would be disgusted by someone who thinks the way I used to secretly think. I have grown and I am so glad…

Good Luck Charlie…People are Crazy

The "Good Luck Charlie" Lesbian Couple
The “Good Luck Charlie” Lesbian Couple

So I have seen a lot of stuff on social media and the news about the “Good Luck Charlie” episode on Disney Channel that introduced a gay couple. I watched the episode myself and thought it was handled well, without making too huge of a deal about the whole thing or getting too political or religious. The family wasn’t walking in a gay pride parade or out protesting gay rights. All that happened was that Charlie (played by Mia Talerico) happened to befriend a little girl who had “two mommies”.  The lesbian couple comes over when their kid is having a play date with Charlie. Amy and Bob Duncan (Charlie’s parents) try to treat these parents like they would any other kid’s parents.

Well, after the show ended, I figured there would be a few people mad about it, but nothing like what happened. Christians banning Disney Channel in their home, extremist crazies sending death threats to the little girl who plays Charlie on the show, tv watchdogs jumping into the mix, etc. This is just ridiculous to me, especially those making threats against a poor, innocent five-year-old girl who had nothing to do with what they decide to put on the show or not put on the show. Although, even with those who are peacefully angry about the whole thing…I just don’t get it.

In today’s world, some kids do have openly gay parents. I know several gay couples personally who have kids and/or grandkids. Even back in the 90’s when he went to college, my husband shared a room with a kid for one semester who had a gay mom…and this was at a very conservative Christian college! So this does happen. Unless you tell your kids they are not allowed to befriend kids that may have gay parents (which to me seems prejudiced)…they may just end up doing that. You may find a kid in your home who does have gay parents, just like the Duncans did.

My question to those who are angry is…what did you expect the Duncans to do in the episode? What would have made you happy? If they slammed the door in the face of the lesbian parents? How about if they went on a rant about how the kid’s parents were going to end up burning in hell forever? Or maybe they should have just told the kid to go home, that “their type” was not welcome in their home? To me…that kind of unkindness and disrespect for one’s fellow humans is what would have made me lose my temper.

Some of the best books ever written were self-published

It seems like there is a lot of condescension in the literary world about “self-published” authors. This annoys me. First off, because I have many friends who self-published excellent books, and secondly, because I have self-published two ebooks (even though my print books aren’t self-published).

So where does this bias come from? Is it because throughout history self-published books have been crappy? I highly doubt that. In fact, many of the best books ever written were self-published. Don’t believe me? Well, here is a short list of some self-pubbed classics:

*Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” was turned down by six publishers, but this didn’t get the young authoress down. She decided to self-publish the book. One of the publishers who had turned down the project saw the completed book, changed his mind and offered to publish the next edition of the book.

*Mark Twain, fed up with his previous publisher, decided to self-publish “Huck Finn”. Ironically it became one of his bestselling books, perhaps because he implemented a door-to-door marketing campaign.

*Edgar Allan Poe (my favorite writer of all time by the way), self-published his first book “Tamerlane and Other Poems”, thus effectively launching his career (even if he never did get the money or respect he deserved while alive).

*Charles Dickens self-published “A Christmas Carol” after having a fight with his publisher over the earnings related to a previous book.

*Some great authors like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters even struggled to get publishers to publish their books “all expenses paid”! In fact, Jane Austen’s family offered a publisher the opportunity to publish Jane’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, on ”behalf of the author who will incur all expenses”. Not only did Jane’s family pay for publishing costs, but they also had to pay a commission to the publisher for each book sold! Sounds like a rotten deal to me, but she did ok in the end.

*Ever read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”? Neither have I, but it was self-published too.

*Even the manual that many writers use as their Bible was first self-published. Where would we be without William Strunk’s “The Elements of Style?”

*Some other authors who are said to have self-published at some point in their careers: Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, e.e. Cummings, Carl Sandburg, Ezra Pound, Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling, Alexandre Dumas, Henry David Thoreau (plus many, many more, but I really don’t want to type all their names, so Google it if you are interested).

In the end, I’m not going to say that all self-published books are good, any more than I would say all traditionally published books are good, but I do think all books deserve to be judged for their literary merit, rather than their publisher.