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,sohadmen’sconsumption.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