5 Things You’ve Probably Experienced if You’re a Woman in Model UN

by Genevieve Pool on February 4, 2018

Written with contribution from the Model United Nations community.

If you’re a woman who has been a delegate or staffer at a Model United Nations conference before, chances are you’ve experienced all or most of these common issues in MUN. It can be extremely frustrating to experience the same gender-based discrimination over and over again. While these actions are rarely intentional and most of us don’t even realize when we’re doing them, there are steps we can all take to be better allies for women in MUN. Here are our common problems and suggested solutions!

PROBLEM: Being talked over. Constantly.

Scientific studies have actually shown that people are less likely to hear a voice that is a higher pitch (like a woman’s). We’ve all heard a man with a loud, deep voice be able to command a room or bloc. Frequently, delegates try to contribute to conversations in unmoderated caucuses or within their bloc, only to be ignored, interrupted, or talked over.

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SOLUTION: Speak up.

Call it out when you see it! Being an ally for women in your committee and bloc is incredibly important. If you respectfully point out that someone is being talked over or ignored constantly, odds are the rest of your group will become more aware of what they’ve been doing and will make an effort to be more equitable in speaking.

 

PROBLEM: Being told you’re too “aggressive” or “bossy.”

It is common for Model UN delegates to be assertive and strong leaders. As a woman, this changes to negative stereotypes, and can make delegates be hesitant to work with you. It’s also personally frustrating and can lead to women doubting their own abilities.

SOLUTION: It’s not your problem, it’s theirs.

If you have the patience and motivation, women can attempt to calmly explain their perspective of the situation. Humor is a great tool for conveying your frustration – a silly raised eyebrow and a “please, I’m not being bossy, just trying to make sure we don’t look like idiots up there!” can go a long way. Otherwise, remind yourself that while “bossy” has a negative connotation, CEOs, politicians, world leaders and game changers were once all called bossy: reclaim the world and proudly declare yourself a boss! While it can feel like stereotypes surround you, there will always be delegates who trust, respect and want to work with successful, intelligent delegates, regardless of gender. There is no need to change your behavior for someone else’s insecurities, just focus on your own abilities.

 

PROBLEM: Being reduced to your wardrobe choices.

While men may wear the same suit for two or even three days of a conference, women can obsess over how their wardrobe choices will affect how others think of them. All women in MUN have been told to “wear a pink dress so you don’t seem threatening and can flirt with the chair” or “if you wear pants and flats you’ll look too manly.” This can lead to obsession over finding the right balance.

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SOLUTION: Pick what you feel comfortable in.

Have a few outfits that you feel comfortable wearing, so you can feel confident in your clothes and focus on the actual substantive issues during debate. Classic black and white and a blazer will do the trick, or if you are feeling more daring, wearing brighter colors will make you more easily noticed in the committee room. If you hate having painful blisters at the end of the day, just go for the flats – no one will notice or care. But most of all, just pick what you feel most comfortable in. If that’s a pink dress, a black and red pantsuit, six inch heels, or anything in between: just rock it!

 

PROBLEM: Being pitted against other women.

In Model UN, it is extremely common to see committee awards where one woman awards amongst many men. This can make women strive to be “the best woman,” and hope to see others fail for the sake of competition.

SOLUTION: Focus on yourself.

Check yourself. Being aware of this issue goes a long way towards reversing the trend and creating a system where women lift each other up. While you don’t have to be in a bloc with other powerful women, chances are you have a lot in common! Making friends or, at the very least, not targeting each other can create an environment where women can focus on doing their best work, rather than on competition.

 

PROBLEM: Not being perceived as substantive

Many women in Model UN have been treated as though they just don’t understand the topic, and are faced with patronizing explanations or are simply ignored. This is especially true in military, business, science, or technology committees, reflective of the real-world areas that are dominated by men.  Women have to fight to be given respect and trust that is automatically given to men who speak confidently, even if the woman is an expert on the topic.

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SOLUTION: Prove them wrong and find allies.

Women in MUN can tend to research and prepare much more than other delegates, in anticipation of being questioned or in fear of getting something wrong. While frustrating, this is a huge advantage. Back up your paper with facts and don’t be apologetic. Finding allies can also alleviate a huge amount of stress; if you have honest conversations with other delegates that you trust, they can be invaluable. Communicating that certain delegates are questioning everything you say or not treating you like an equal member of the bloc can help others recognize the pattern.  Allies can back you up with simple phrases such as “she wrote this clause, let’s listen to her” or “that was her idea, you need to talk to her about amendments.”

 

While these are some of the most common issues women can face, the list certainly does not end here. There are many other common instances of gender-based discrimination, from the subconscious to the outright (check out our article sharing anecdotes from Women in MUN later this week!) It is vital, therefore, is to think critically about the social dynamics around you and to call out sexism when you see it. Most importantly, have conversations, practice empathy, and focus on being the best delegate you can, regardless of how others see you.

Follow Best Delegate throughout the week to see more content tailored to staffers, club leaders, allies, and more as we dive into what it means to be a Woman in MUN! 

  • vyn

    honestly not a fan of how this article is written, in all. it makes sense but some of this should be rephrased – ex. thinking about what to wear should be “being reduced to your wardrobe choices,” and viewing other women as competition should be “being pitted against other women.” it kind of makes it seem like some of these problems are women’s fault when that’s not the case. also not a fan of how it literally tells women to be humorous instead of holding our ground? yikes. if i’m mad at a fellow delegate for not being respectful, ESPECIALLY if it’s a guy, i’m not going to be funny about it so he doesn’t feel threatened. i’m standing my ground and if it makes him uncomfortable, then good.

    • Genevieve Pool

      Hi – I really appreciate some of these suggestions and have updated the article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! There are many ways to approach these situations and I definitely want to incorporate diverse approaches.

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