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Masculity Consumption and the Transformation of Scottish Rite Masonry

Masculity Consumption and the Transformation of Scottish Rite Masonry

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Published by: Antonio Javier Aveledo on Sep 28, 2010
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Gender & History ISSN 0953-5233Mary Ann Clawson, ’Masculinity, Consumption and the Transformation of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Turn-of-the-Century United States’Gender & History, Vol.19 No.1 April 2007, pp. 101–121.
Masculinity, Consumption and theTransformation of Scottish Rite Freemasonryin the Turn-of-the-Century United States
Mary Ann Clawson 
Beat the drum; blow the horn; flash the sign; the degrees going cheap; 32
for a song; money’sworth or money back.
During the 1890s, Scottish Rite Masons in the United States began to transform theirelaborate initiation rituals into a fully staged theatrical spectacle. The changes – ashift from lodge room to auditorium, the constitution of initiates as an audience of spectators and the introduction of elaborate sets and lighting – transformed the ritualinto an avowedly theatrical experience, located the Rite within the era’s growing arrayof opportunities for commercial entertainment and consumer choice and producedan explosive growth in the hitherto floundering organisation. At the same time, as adrama performed by men and for men, the staged ritual seemed to challenge the era’scultivation of female audiences, emerging as a distinctive masculine entertainmentgenre within a culture that associated frivolous consumption with women.These changes also produced a round of trenchant criticism from traditionalistswithin the order, who decried what they saw as the commercialisation, feminisationandgeneraldumbing-downoftheirtreasuredritual.‘Greatestshowonearth!lamentedWilliam Knox. ‘Were not the degrees sold to me, and, in the spirit of commercialism,shall I not sell the same?’ Critics like Knox and Francis O’Donnell asserted the moralsuperiorityoftraditionalpracticewhich‘doesthegreatworkwithoutstagesandscene-settings, robes and regalias, electric lights or pipe organs’, relying rather on ‘assiduousdevotion and attention’, ‘cultivation of analytic thought’ and the ‘almighty power of Reason’ to produce ‘a great Mason, otherwise a truly good man’.
The conflation of Masonry and manhood was central to this conflict. To the grow-ing number of enthusiasts who flocked to the energised order, the staged ritual wasan alluring blend of edification and entertainment, enacted in surroundings they ex-perienced as luxurious, tasteful and manly. To the critics, the new mode of conferralrepresented a loss of both Masonic and masculine integrity, an unprecedented assim-ilation into a regime of empty commercialism. Identifying spectacle with femininityand childhood, with the ‘lower orders’ and the ‘lower races’ and with ‘all those groups
The Author 2007. Journal compilation
Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2007, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 MainStreet, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Gender & History
outside the charmed circle of Caucasian male adulthood’, the traditionalists champi-onedaritualexperiencethatwoulddefendanearnest,activeandself-denyingmanhoodagainst the onslaught of a passive, self-indulgent and feminised consumerism.
During the past twenty-five years, Freemasonry has emerged as an important siteforthestudyofmasculineidentityconstructioninarangeofsettingsandhistoricaleras.While they vary in their attention to issues of class, race and nationality, these studiesshareanunderstandingofthelodgeasahomo-socialspaceinwhichhistoricallyspecificmasculinities could be articulated and shaped.
But the story has been largely toldwithout reference to the implications of Masons’ engagement with material practices,in particular market-based consumption – the acquisition, through purchase, of thephysical spaces, regalia and ritual objects that sustained the Masonic experience bothpractically and symbolically.
Through this absence, scholars have acceded, howeverunwittingly, to a dichotomisation that associates masculinity with production whiledefining consumer culture, pejoratively, as women’s sphere.The purpose of this study, therefore, is twofold. First, it seeks to extend andcomplicate our understanding of Freemasonry through an examination of how oneAmerican organisation, the Scottish Rite, used consumption and spectacle to increaseits visibility and widen its appeal to prospective members. Yet the vehement opposi-tion to this largely successful innovation suggests that conflicts over fraternal esotericaoffer privileged insight into more fundamental controversies about the shifting mean-ings of white bourgeois manhood in its relation to the burgeoning culture of massconsumption and commercial entertainment in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. Thus the case of the Scottish Rite also advances understanding of masculineconsumptionpracticesbycontributingtoagrowingscholarlyrecognitionof European and American men’s complex engagements with consumer culture and thevaryingconceptionsofmasculineidentityandprivilegesuchengagementsproposed.
Gender and consumption
Consumer society has long linked women to consumption and men to production. AsKenon Breazeale notes, ‘Much of what the modern world deems appropriate sex rolesis embedded in a nutshell dichotomy – men produce and women shop’.
Within thisdichotomy, men are portrayed as untouched by consumer culture and untainted by itssupposed superficialities. Early feminist scholarship accepted not only the accuracy of the dichotomy but the moral hierarchy it implied. Often this took the form of seeingwomen’sconsignmenttoconsumptionasaformofbondage,asourceofoppressionthatwomen were to overcome through paid employment and economic self-sufficiency.
Over time, however, an increasingly dominant approach sought to undermine the di-vision by unearthing women’s productive activities – looking at both the unwrittenhistory of women as paid workers and, simultaneously, at the content and value of women’s unpaid work in the home. Part of this effort was to recast consumption itself as a form of useful labour that was essential to material survival as well as to socialand cultural reproduction in an increasingly monetarised and commodified society.
Butjustaswomen’slabourhadbeenrenderedinvisible,sohadmensconsumption.Themasculinesideofthedichotomy,whichpositedmenasthedisciplined,abstemiousand productive counter to feminine frivolity, went largely unexamined. Only recentlyhave feminist scholars sought to challenge this hierarchy by identifying masculine
The Author 2007. Journal compilation
Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2007
Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the United States
consumption as an equally important site for the construction of gender.
As Victoriade Grazia argues, capitalist modernity developed through and as consumer society.This meant the ‘transformation of goods from being relatively static symbols aroundwhich hierarchies were ordered to being more directly constitutive of class, socialstatus, and personal identity’. Within this framework, commodity consumption is seenas
of gender for men as well as women: a process that ‘transforms[s] afemale into a woman’ (and a male into a man) within the ‘transformative powers’ of acapitalist economy that ‘constantly refashions notions of authentic, essential woman-and manhood’.
Commodity consumption thus becomes both a major medium of social reproduc-tion and a strategic resource in the articulation and deployment of class, racial andgender distinctions. Given this, consumption could also emerge as a site of strugglewhereconceptionsofgenderandrelationsbetweengenderandotherformsofhierarchyand power were defined and negotiated, both between men and women and, impor-tantly for this study, among men. In the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuryUnited States, the Scottish Rite was one such site where alternative definitions of mas-culinitywereformulatedandcontestedthroughwhitemiddle-classmenspracticalandsymbolic relationships to consumer society.The turn-of-the-century period in which Scottish Rite Masons refashioned thecultural practices of their organisation has been repeatedly characterised as a formativemoment in the development of American culture more generally. At this time, theUnited States became actively involved in empire, in Cuba and the Philippines; thesegregationist policies of the Jim Crow era took firm hold in the South; Frederick Winslow Taylor and scientific management transformed the control of labour and,crucially for my argument here, the ideal of self-realisation and the articulation of social status became more widely linked to consumer choice. Within this context,an emphasis on visual display was central to the emerging symbiosis of commerceand entertainment: the theatrical focus on elaborate stage sets, lighting and costumesprivileged appearance and served as an incitement to consumption, while department-store shopping, with its display windows and exuberant public spaces, emerged as ‘thecontinuation, by other means, of the public delight in curiosities, spectacle, and featsof wonder that were offered up in the world of entertainment’.
Manyscholarshavearguedthattheintensifiedlinkingofcommerceandentertain-ment was part of a much larger social and cultural reorientation that reorganised un-derstandings of both class and gender. In class terms, mass production and distributionenabledmiddle-classpeopletoadopt‘newstandardsofdomesticculturepreviouslyre-strictedtotheupperclass’andtopartakeofevenmoreopulentdisplaysofclass-markedconsumption in the expansive public spaces being created by turn-of-the-centuryentrepreneurs.
But both contemporary and retrospective analysts have understoodthis change as a highly gendered one, organised around the image of the avid womanconsumer, within a dichotomous framework that continued to link men to productionand women to consumption.For American men, then, the shift to a consumer society was complex becauseit so directly challenged an earlier definition of manliness as residing in self-mastery,hard work and control over impulse. Men’s contradictory relationship to consumptionand pleasure in this era is undoubtedly part of what has led some scholars to identify
The Author 2007. Journal compilation
Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2007

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