Meet the Team: Mari’s Love Letter to the Feminist Community

By Mari Vangen
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Photo by the talented Saudah Ahmad

I started my feminist activist career in middle school when I organized a boycott of our coed basketball team to protest the fact that as girls, we were never passed to during games. I was ten years old, I was outraged, and I wasn’t going to stand for it! Since then, while I’ve changed a lot (I grew a few inches, discovered intersectionality and read the entire Harry Potter series more than once), my commitment to feminist ideas and my need to stand up to sexism has endured.

I love a lot of things about feminism. I love the critical lens that it’s provided me with, I love that it’s forced me to examine my own identity and privilege and I love the Beyoncé swag, but most of all I love the community. The feminist community is full of passionate, innovative people working to support an inclusive culture free of sexism, racism and bigotry. It’s through feminism that I have really found my people, people who inspire and challenge me, people who just get it.

Mari and Kara
My mom and I, 1995

My community of feminists started with my family. My grandma is a trailblazer. She went back to school at fifty to get a degree in nursing when her peers were planning for retirement and she was one of the first people in her small town in Minnesota to get a divorce. She’s also an amazing artist and the best baker I know. I call her Super Grammy for a reason. My mom is a social worker (side note: everyone take a moment to reflect on how amazing and important social workers are), she also owns a small business and is back in school. She is the strongest person with the softest voice. They are my original feminist community of kickass women, not only did they pave the way for me, they also gave me something to strive towards.

I’m just going to say it, I have the best high school friends out there. They are my forever sisters. It was with them that I first started thinking about feminism as a part of my identity. In our teens we spent our weekends playing laser tag and ranting about the gender wage gap and street harassment. Now, we still get together and rant about the gender wage gap and street harassment but for some reason we’ve stopped playing laser tag. Being a feminist in this group wasn’t just cool – it was obvious. We didn’t become friends because of feminism, but it’s one of the shared experiences that continues to bind us together so closely.

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UW Campus Women’s Center collective, 2013

My senior year of college I worked at the Campus Women’s Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (go badgers!).  This was my “aha moment” or more accurately, series of enlightening, uncomfortable, tear your hair out, blow your mind moments. I was paid to meet and hangout with other feminists, discuss issues important to students and then actually take action. It was incredible. The women that I worked with in my collective pushed me, challenged me and altered my views on feminism for the better.  My activism on campus allowed me to meet driven, smart, creative feminists every day. This new community of feminists forced me to think about intersectionality – disability, race and gender in a way that I hadn’t before. I was able to be a part of all of these conversations, in class, at work and at home about what it means to be a feminist in the 21st century. I was a constant stream of feminist dialogue because internally I couldn’t stop questioning my role in the feminist movement as a white, college educated, able bodied woman. My college feminist community shaped my feminist lens, a process that will continue throughout my life.

All of these powerful and passionate teachers, coworkers, classmates, friends and family-members have fundamentally changed my perspective.  It’s through feminism that I have found my people – and I am so excited to widen my circle at the Feminist Majority Foundation as I a meet new communities of student-activists who will further inspire me as a feminist.

To everyone out there who advocates for, writes about and in anyway supports an inclusive culture free of sexism and bigotry – thank you, you make my life better.

By Mari Vangen

Mari Vangen is a National Campus Organizer with the Feminist Majority Foundation. A proud Minnesotan, Mari loves her bike, watches Broad City religiously and is passionate about all things related to whales. [email protected]

5 comments

  1. You are on fire Mari!! Congratulations. You are making a difference living your life so full. I will continue watching what you are up to.

    Love Deb

  2. GO team!!!!!
    Mari, It has been an honor to watch and witness from afar as you have developed as an activist and feminist over the years…… And it really is about the team effort and so I appreciate your value of naming those (mothers and grandmothers) that have come before you and also those (friends, allies, and coworkers) that have journeyed along side of you! It’s inspiring to see you and the next wave of feminism move beyond what my generation could have imagined…. keep up the good work folks!

    sincerely, cara carlson, ph.d licsw

  3. Mari, you’re awesome, as always! You are loved by everyone who meets you, and I know you will be successful in your position. I appreciate that you are doing the work that many of us need and want.
    AND I love your picture!

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