I want to be respectful, but can women join?
Freemasonry does not initiate women. Why does it not allow women to join? This is a question that is potentially difficult to answer in our current age. There are several answers, none of which are guaranteed to give satisfaction.
At one time the claim was made that there were no female mediaeval stonemasons and therefore there could be no female freemasons. An appeal to tradition is not satisfactory; less so when contemporary research has demonstrated that, albeit few, there were female stonemasons.
An argument can be made that nothing is allowed to enter a masonic lodge that may lead to dissention among the members. This justifies the exclusion of any discussion of politics or religion, and has also been used to justify the exclusion of women.
A justification has also been proposed that a masonic lodge is, in the current new-age language, the Menís House; that the ritual is a form of male bonding.
The only real justification is that Freemasonry actively promotes and teaches certain social freedoms, one of them being the freedom of association. If freemasons wish to associate in a male-only environment, that then is their right and privilege as free citizens. No other justification or explanation is required.
It should be stressed that although women are not permitted to petition for membership nor attend lodge meetings, the female friends and relatives of freemasons are encouraged to attend or participate in the many social activities organized by lodges. The teachings and beliefs of Freemasonry are in no way or fashion misogynist.
In 1850, the Order of the Eastern Star was established by Rob Morris, a lawyer and educator from Boston, Massachusetts, who had been an official with the Freemasons. It is based on teachings from the Bible, but is open to people of all theistic beliefs. Members of the Order are aged 18 and older; men must be Master Masons and women must have specific relationships with Masons. Originally, a woman would have to be the daughter, widow, wife, sister, or mother of a master Mason, but the Order now allows other relatives as well as allowing Job's Daughters, Rainbow Girls.
It was created so the women in a Master Mason's family could participate in an organization along with their Master Mason relative.
Some notable members of the OES were Clara Barton, Laura Ingalls Wilder, her mother Carolyn and sister Carrie, Dale Evans, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harry S Truman.