Sexism is a multifaceted and complex issue that is experienced by individuals on a spectrum. It cannot be solved in one article. However, the topic is important enough to merit conversation and discussion. The people interviewed in this article are all women who have served in numerous leadership positions inside and outside of their Model UN teams. They have either been Head Delegates, Diplomacy Fellows, or leaders on Best Delegate’s Media Team. The purpose of this article was to get several perspectives on this topic in hopes to have a more meaningful conversation about Sexism and Model UN.
1. How have you encountered sexism in Model UN?
“Though every delegate in the committee room is entitled to an equal opportunity to voice their opinions and collaborate freely, my personal experience with Model UN indicates otherwise. Several qualities like my average height and softer voice prevent me from commanding the attention of the room like a tall male delegate with a deep, loud speaking voice. Despite my inability to control these characteristics, it is noticeable that the audience is less attentive to my words than those of a male delegate’s. In unmoderated caucuses and informal discussion, male delegates tend to band together and push out women in subtle ways, like assigning us to smaller pieces of the resolution, or asking us to split off into a smaller group with other women, rather than working with the large group consisting of predominantly male delegates. I have been asked to “rewrite clauses due to my good handwriting,” while male delegates sidelined as a group to discuss the presentation of a resolution I was a significant contributor to. I have overheard male delegates including certain female delegates in working papers over others for romantic pursuits. I have even been told that I look more like a leader while wearing pant suits over skirts and dresses. As a woman who participated in five extracurriculars in high school, volunteered in several non-profit organizations, earned two research-based teaching and grant writing positions and interned at a top financial firm, how is it fair for my intelligence, qualifications and overall image be determined by the type of clothing I choose to wear? Sexism in Model UN takes away from the committee experience by restricting open, fair discussion and limiting the contributions of women, who bring a unique perspective to the table.”
“Sexism is very real in MUN, although in ways that people don’t directly notice unless someone kind of spells it out to them. As a short, Asian female in MUN conferences, I do feel that I would somehow looked down upon by other delegates, especially male ones. I think a large issue for those in my shoes is intersectionality with both racism and sexism. Being “Asian,” I do feel that I would be seen as that “smart” and “nerdy” MUN girl who does her research but can’t speak as well as the others. Although male delegates probably did not realize they would do it, there would be moments where they could patronize me in explaining some concepts they thought I might not know. They would also use their loud voices and tall figures to get everyone’s attention while in unmoderated caucus. It would definitely be 2x harder working with a male power delegate than a female power delegate due to this. Additionally, if a male delegate were to “fool around” or joke, I would notice that many would just laugh and go along with it. However, when a female delegate would slack off in the bit, they would be talked bad about behind her back by others. If a male delegate is loud and strong, they’re seen as the typical “charismatic” delegate who knows how to take control. But if a female delegate were to do the same, they would be seen as just being too “loud” and screaming, and too aggressive/power delegate-like.”
-Amanda S. Lee
“It can be very subtle and subconsciously committed, but in the context of this article, it is important to emphasize that sexism can be perpetuated – and judgement can be passed – by delegates of any gender. Some of the most disappointing acts of sexism I see are in how women, having internalized sexist attitudes, treat other women and thereby condone, uphold, and perpetuate sexist attitudes. I had always hoped we women would be in it together, rolling our eyes at the cheesy pick-up lines and lifting each other up instead of tearing the other down for the sake of an award.”
2. How did you effectively deal with sexism in Model UN?
“Confidence is key. As a woman, I have learned over the years that speaking in a louder, clearer voice and maintaining eye contact with the audience goes a long way. Though everyone is encouraged to be confident during speeches and collaboration time during unmoderated caucuses and outside of committee, it is evident that women must put in the extra effort to portray a strong, confident image to the rest of committee. Standing up for other people in committee goes a long way as well. If you witness another woman being pushed out of a discussion, it is imperative to call out the individual pushing this exclusive nature in front of the group. If people actively realize that this behavior is wrong and unfair and see this being pointed out, it’ll encourage other bystanders to stand up and say something.”
“The older I got and the more conferences I went to, I realized that despite policies being important, you also have to know who you should be with in a group. If I’m with someone who is being too aggressive in your unmoderated caucus groups, then I would not be in that group and try to find one I feel is more diplomatic. I do not work with power delegates, simply because I’m not there to fight but to work together while also taking leadership to create some order. My advice is that if it gets too undiplomatic, I advise letting the chair know. But if you don’t want to do that, then know there are others who feel the same way and you can group with them if they are willing to work with you and your policies/solutions.”
-Amanda S. Lee
“I focused on my own confidence. I thought no one could deter me if I was as confident as possible. And in many ways, honestly, I began to derive it from my allies, including from my co-delegate. As a man, he supported me, would tag me out if I was overwhelmed, and help me call out inappropriate or offensive behavior or helped me put a stop to gossip, before I had the confidence to do it alone. If you do not have a co-del, make a friend in committee, or, as I have done once or twice, ask your head delegate to talk you through it (or even help you intervene).”
3. How can women empower women and/or men in the short and long term to decrease the negative effects of sexism?
“Eliminating sexism completely within Model UN will take time, but with small steps such as encouraging another woman to speak during an unmoderated caucus, allowing both male and female delegates to appear for resolution question and answer sessions, or even complimenting a woman on a strong idea will empower women and encourage them to voice their thoughts despite any difficulties they may have had with discrimination in the past. By improving the balance of involvement between male and female delegates in the committee room, it will push the idea that the opinions of everyone, regardless of their gender, is valuable. The day everyone’s opinions, thoughts, and capabilities are determined by solely their quality and feasibility rather than their gender is the day we will have overcome the obstacle of sexism in Model UN.”
“In the short term, women can help empower women the most by being supportive and cooperative when caucusing and working together. They have to let all women speak when other voices are too loud. I would try and get quiet delegates, who evidently wanted to say something but feel too intimidated to do so, to try and talk in the groups. Try to get others involved, instead of shutting them out just so you can talk and look good as well. In MUN, I think a huge point you learn as you get older is the ability to empower others’ voices, which really helps you in terms of diplomacy. As a chair for four years in BMUN, diplomacy is such a huge quality to find, and can be the difference between a Best Delegate versus an Outstanding award. For the long term, don’t talk bad about other women who are trying their best, unless you can say the same thing about males who might be doing the same thing/acting the same way. I think double standards are so real in MUN, and working against this and taking the first step to even realize what you are doing or thinking is important for the long term fight against sexism.”
-Amanda S. Lee
“I was recently in a meeting for my own work – very much an “old-boys-club” career field – in which 16 (older) men and 1 woman were sitting around a table. The young woman was making a presentation and could not get out two sentences without being rudely interrupted. As she later continued, she was palpably diminished, and started speaking with “of course, I have no power in this, I’m just little old me giving ideas… I’m just suggesting…” The facilitator (think: Chair), a powerful senior leader in the Department, pulled her aside and said, “I never want to hear you put yourself down again. Stand up for yourself. Your ideas are worth hearing. Do not let others put themselves down on your watch. Do not stand to let others diminish others. Congratulate those who stand up for themselves and make sure they know that they have allies in the room.”
I would like to give a special thank you to Nikita, Amanda, and Kerry for sharing your perspectives. We would also love to hear your opinion on this article in the comments or on facebook.