Mary Lee is quoted to have said, “My aim is to leave the world better for women than I found it”. In honour of the generations of feminists who paved the way for today’s women, Gemma Beale and Becci Love have created a project to encourage dialogue, education and inclusivity surrounding feminism and social justice issues: this project is The Mary Lee Exchange.
Mary Lee is a name that is synonymous with women’s empowerment. Born in Ireland, Mary Lee migrated to South Australia in 1897 where she played a major role in achieving enormous reforms for gender equality. As well as successfully raising the legal age of consent from 13 to 16 in 1885, she was the secretary of the Australian Women’s Suffrage League, which pushed relentlessly to allow women the right to vote and stand in parliament. With the bill passed in 1894, South Australia became the first legislation worldwide to grant full suffrage to women. This weekend will see the first edition of The Mary Lee Exchange take to the Wheatsheaf Hotel in the form of a panel for an afternoon of laid-back conversation. Beale and Love are eager to bring the project to the public after thinking it over for a number of years. “I like the idea of a feminist event that is social and fun and about building communities,” Beale tells The Adelaide Review. “Activism is very good and debates are important and needed, but I like the idea of bringing people together before we get to those things.” The event will feature a panel of four women who will speak on the topic of work with discussion led by independent theatre maker Sarah Dunn. Panelists for the day include Cassie Alvey, Angela Schilling, Kristin Alford, and Sandra Dunn, all of whom are of differing ages and hail from a variety of industries, including the arts, media, science and social services. “I think a lot of traditional panel events pit speakers against each other in a way, whereas that is in no way what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to listen to a diverse group of experiences, and I think that’s a wonderful way to learn,” Beale states. Beale and Love go on to say that an integral aspect of the Mary Lee Exchange is its emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility. The Wheatsheaf was chosen as the event’s venue for its inviting family-friendly atmosphere, with the theme of work seeking to reinforce an inclusive mentality among attendees. “We want to show people that you don’t have to hit this high peak to be considered worthy of being listened to, that everyone’s got opinions, that everyone’s opinion is valuable, whether they are a CEO or just getting started,” says Love. Tickets to the event are divided into three categories (waged, unwaged and solidarity) and range from $5 to $20, with attendees self-determining which bracket they belong in. According to Love, the decision to create a tiered ticketing system was vital in ensuring accessibility for people who wish to come but may not be able to afford to. Proceeds from ticket sales will go towards funding future Mary Lee Exchange events as well as paying panel members and staff for their time. Ideas for subsequent Mary Lee Exchanges are already in the works, with Beale and Love sharing that potential discussion topics for future panelists may include community, family and relationships. They also hope to continue promoting an intersectional approach to feminism through their events by discussing gender issues in relation to their convergence with race and class. “The overarching goal is to bring as many different women and gender nonconforming people together,” states Beale. As for what else to expect on the night? Beale and Love have revealed that a game of ‘Pin the Iron on Tony Abbott’ will take place, with a DJ set following the conclusion of the panel discussion. “Obviously and inherently the things we’ll be talking about will touch on a range of social justice issues, but I like the idea of this isn’t so much about rallying people to a specific cause so much as it is kind of consciousness-raising space, and a place that you maybe just want to relax as well,” says Beale. “It’s exhausting, trying to make change all the time. I think it’s just as important to look after each other and support one another in maybe social and not traditionally activist ways.” The Mary Lee Exchange Edition #1 will take place from 2pm to 5pm at the Wheatsheaf this Saturday, August 20. Learn more about the Mary Lee Exchange and book for the event here: facebook.com/events