Ending Gender Bias in Odd Fellows -by Joseph Benton

Ending Gender Bias in Odd Fellows

If you’ve ever read anything about the state of gender identity politics, especially in Canada where there are laws that protect people from incorrect gender pronoun use under threat of a lawsuit, you probably know it’s a very big deal for some and may result in lawsuits against incorrect use here in the US of A.

Up until recently, and still in many places, much of the official words in rituals, books and rules used to describe Odd Fellows are in the male vernacular: brother/brethren, he/him/his, etc. This was how Odd Fellows started but is not reflective of Odd Fellows today. choir

You can see now where there have been attempts to make changes such as in our Opening Ode the lyrics include the words “brethren (members)” so those reciting can choose between the two words as either a traditionalist or as an Odd Fellow who wants to insure inclusiveness.

Our duties are written to describe role responsibilities as he/him/his and are amended to include words such as “or she” and “or her.”

In an effort to reflect reality throughout our Order, with the aim of inclusiveness and also avert the possibility of lawsuits, we may have lost something by becoming too concerned and it may be time to look at the ultimate destination that political correctness must take us and consider an alternate approach for a less litigious future.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE TOO FAR?

According to the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee) LGBT center https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/, there are many different pronouns one may (or even must) use. It may be possible that if these pronouns work their way into our laws in the United States that we will need to use all of these pronouns in our texts. Instead of the words in books reading as “he or she” they may say “(f)ae or e/ey or he or per or she or they or ve or xe ze/zie” and that’s an eyeful to read as well as a mouthful to say. My brain is full just wrapping my head around keeping these words and their meanings straight. And keep in mind that for each pronoun there is a use of it where instead of “his or her duty” it may read “(f)aer or eir or his or pers or her or their or vis or xyr or hir duty.” Wow!  inclusiveness

Keep in mind that I, as the writer of this article, personally don’t care what someone prefers to be called. But I do know that if there is an emergency happening and I have to use the right pronoun all the time that my head will simply be too overwhelmed to try and figure out how I should say, “Is (f)ae or e/ey or he or per or she or they or ve or xe or ze/zie alright?” Obviously I’m just going to have to avoid remembering all those pronouns and just say “Are they alright?” and hope that I don’t offend anyone by saying “they” instead of he or she. They is expedient, generalizes fairly and is not inaccurate.

This is a good first step to take for Odd Fellows to get rid of the tired “he (or she)” in our books. Our language should empower us rather than confuse us or restrict us.

This has been on my mind since the time I interviewed someone to join our lodge. He told me that we should drop the word “fellows” altogether to me as if I should do it before he would join. This got me to think that perhaps Odd Fellows as an organization is sexist in its own definition. I had to rethink what to say to someone if I encountered that idea again.

Part of the issue here was this person’s idea that the use of the term “fellow” means a man or male identity. This is where that person was mistaken. If you’ve ever seen a church with the word “Fellowship” in the title, you know it’s not a church of just men. If you’ve ever heard of women who are academics in their field who are given specific freedoms and privileges at universities and colleges, you’ve probably heard of the term “fellow” to refer to them as it is an honor bestowed. When you travel, you know that people who travel along with you are your “fellow” travelers.

Fellows doesn’t mean men, so why do we need to continue to say “he” and “him” throughout our books? I recommend we eliminate all use of “he” or “she” or “him” or “her” and the word “brethren” altogether. Where titles are used as subjects of sentences, we should just use those titles instead of words like he or she and then simplify where possible.

The same idea was even rolled out by the United States Marine Corps when they modified their job titles to make them gender-neutral where possible. “Basic  marinesinfantryman” became “basic infantry Marine.” Titles with the word “crewman” like “tank crewman” became “armor Marine” and “recon man” became “recon Marine” and so on.

WRITING WITHOUT GENDER-BASED PRONOUNS

In an example here, if the warden’s duty instructions are that “/B He or she /B shall qualify /B himself /B to give instructions in the laws, customs, purposes and programs of the Order” that it may simply be easier and clearer to focus more on who it is rather than their gender. Instead it could say “/B The warden /B shall /B be self-qualified /B to give instructions in the laws, customs, purposes and programs of the Order.”

This is how we can use titles to avoid “he (or she)” verbiage.

As a further demonstration, let’s say that we are going to describe a female warden’s actions during lodge session with a male noble grand and see how we can rewrite it from the old way using gender-based pronouns.

“The Warden got a brilliant idea to make a motion to the Noble Grand. She was nervous about making the motion to him. Her heart was pounding. The opportunity was hers to take and she knew she would kick herself later if she didn’t make the motion now.”

Let’s rewrite this. And keep in mind that we’re not trying to write the Great American Novel but we are merely reporting on facts.

“The Warden got a brilliant idea to make a motion to the Noble Grand. The warden was nervous about making the motion and their heart was pounding. The opportunity was for the taking and the Warden knew they would kick themselves later if the motion wasn’t made now.”

Note the use of the impersonal but non-gender term “their” and “they” and “themselves” which is good grammar and doesn’t try to get into the identity of the warden.

When writing about members, we can use members or even fellows and friends as an interchangeable term if usage becomes repetitive. Let’s try to rewrite the following:

“The brethren and sisters all left the lodge hall to make their way to the kitchen; all of the men and women were hungry.”

Now let’s rewrite:

“The Fellows all left the lodge hall to make their way to the kitchen; all of the friends were hungry.”

OUR OPENING ODE REWRITTEN WITHOUT THE AWKWARDNESS

And then there’s the matter of the Opening Ode with the first two stanzas written as follows:

“Members (Brethren) of our friendly Order,
Honor here asserts her sway;
All within our sacred border
Must her high commands obey.

Join, Odd Fellowship of Members (Brethren),
In the song of truth and love;
Leave disputes and strife to others,
We in harmony must move.”

This can be rewritten to simply just say “Members” but the first line could certainly say “Fellows” instead of “Members (Brethren).”

But then there becomes an issue with describing nouns in the feminine gender where we say “Honor here asserts her sway” and honor has “her commands” to obey. This calls back to the origins referring to certain things as “she” like a ship or Lady Liberty.

“Fellows of our friendly Order,
Honor here asserts its sway;
All within our sacred border
Must its high commands obey.

Join, Odd Fellowship of friends,
In the song of truth and love;
Leave disputes and strife to others,
We in harmony must move.”

Note that I’ve used “its sway” instead of “her sway” because, after all, “it” is a sexless term. It’s not a gender-based pronoun and it is used to describe a thing like when you ask someone if they get a joke and you say, “Get it?” You don’t say “Get her?” or “Get him?”

As someone who has been writing professionally and as a hobby for north of 40 years, I believe that this may be helpful in order to avoid a future where lawsuits may rain down on Odd Fellows who use terminology from over 200 years ago. Best of luck to you my fine friends and fellows!

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