Ending Gender Bias in Odd Fellows

by Joseph Benton

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 text in the Odd Fellows ritual, books and rules used to describe Odd Fellows are in the male vernacular: brother/brethren, he/him/his, etc. To be fair, this is how Odd Fellows started 200 years ago and we must never forget our roots, but it is not reflective of Odd Fellows today with the inclusion of women into Odd Fellows lodges nearly 20 years ago.
You can see 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 be inclusive.
Our duties, as written in our laws, are written to describe role responsibilities as he/him/his and are sometimes amended to include words such as “or she” and “or her.”
In an effort to reflect reality throughout our Order, with the aim of gender inclusiveness and also to avert the possibility of lawsuits, we may have lost something by becoming too concerned about political correctness. It may be time to look at the ultimate destination beyond political correctness and inclusiveness and consider an alternate approach to a future that is secure against lawsuits and also reflects well on Odd Fellows. After all, Odd Fellows was only in the United States for a few decades as an all-male organization before creating an organization for the women in their lives called Rebekahs which grew beyond the sphere of Odd Fellowship and became its own sphere of influence.


Before you read the following part, it may be worth noting that as the author of this article, I believe that we all must recognize the power of words and that they should not be trifled with to satisfy everyone, but instead we must all look beyond the tempestuous nature of politic correctness and come to a place that we can all agree upon resting together as friends. This next paragraph does not sit well with me, either; I for one am not OK with reinventing language for the purpose of satisfying only a few or trying to please everyone instead. Instead, I prefer to look beyond this all and find a way where we can all be Odd Fellows: men, women and anyone else willing to be OK with being called a “fellow” as in the kind of “fellow” that is a scholar in a fellows program or “fellowship” at a church which welcomes everyone and any kind of use of the word “fellow” that stands beyond sexual identity; the word “friend” isn’t based on sex so why should the word “fellow” be based on sex when it is clearly not meant to be.
And now for the news that seems to want to affect every American… 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!
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” cuts to the chase. They is expedient, generalizes fairly and is not inaccurate. There are some grammatic uses of “they” which may be problematic but that has shifted to allow for it as a generic description of him or her. 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 unintentionally 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 regardless of sex.

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; instead of referring to the title of Noble Grand as he or him, just say “Noble Grand” instead. 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 infantryman” became “basic infantry Marine” because Marine is a title and doesn’t need to be replaced by the word “man” under any circumstances. Titles with the word “crewman” like “tank crewman” became “armor Marine” and “recon man” became “recon Marine” and so on; it just makes sense and is more relevant when there are Women Marines in those roles and carrying those job titles.


In an example here, if the warden’s duty instructions are that “He (or she) shall qualify himself 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 “The warden shall be self-qualified to give instructions in the laws, customs, purposes and programs of the Order.” Easy! 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 different than 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 OK for grammar and doesn’t try to get into the identity of the warden.

When writing about members, we can use words like 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.”


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 members,
In the song of truth and love.
Leave disputes and strife to others;
Friends, 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 friends and fellows!
Hopefully all of this doesn’t leave you with the sense that I, nor this website or affiliates, are against anyone’s preference of any kind. Freedom is too important to restrict or criticize what people say. What is more important is to find a way forward that takes the political debate out of our daily business as we are to avoid inappropriate debate of religion and politics as Odd Fellows.

This story was written using one source: https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/