Stereotypes and The Gender Divide in MUN

by prathmj on April 22, 2014

Model United Nations is a simulation of one of the most diverse organizations in the world, inviting delegates of all races, religions, and sexes to debate and help combat a variety of issues. We participate in Model UN so that we have the ability to  face and hopefully solve those same issues on whatever scale we can. Yet, it is sadly evident that in the world of Model UN, the same embracement of diversity has been continually put aside for stereotyping and bullying – causing The Gender Divide.

The UN prides itself on being free of discrimination, and to see what MUN has succumbed to – isolating different genders into blocks of their own, refusing to listen to ideas because the opinion of one sex is preferred over that of the other, and generalizing an entire gender based upon one experience – is quite disappointing and worrying.

The Gender Divide is broken up into a series of stereotypes, ranging from delegate skill to appearance, and below are a few examples of issues seen commonly in committee:

Appearance and Dress:

This is an issue that is prevalent in both sexes, and many females feel obliged as a result of external influences or believe that attempting to appear more “attractive” is a way of increasing their chances of gaining support in committee.  This archetype is essentially objectifying women, and forcing delegates to worry about their appearance more than their actual skill.

Males also face this issue, but in a less demeaning manner. Many are being told they must dress to appear “powerful” and overarching, forcing them to base their style on the opinions of others.

Fashion, while playing an important part in first impressions, should not force delegates to use their sexuality as a means of getting ahead in committee, and the divide forces many to feel self-conscious and more worried about their appearance than performance.

A lot of the time segregated blocks are made without realization.

A lot of the time segregated blocks are made without realization.

Segregated Block Formation:

This issue is visible in all types of committees, where delegates of a specific gender stick together, sometimes even causing all female and all male blocks. This mainly happens because delegates feel isolated from the other gender when their ideas aren’t taken into consideration, and can become very detrimental to the self-esteem as well as motivation to those who feel left out.

Due to this discouragement from working together, a lot of time blocks are oblivious to various opinions and end up becoming quite one sided, hindering further compromise and sacrificing the diplomatic aspect that defines Model UN.

Delegate Skill and Expectations:

This is stereotype typically associated with female delegates, and the severity of this issue far outweighs the previous problems. Many times, well versed and sagacious female delegates are not afforded the opportunity to share their ideas with blocks and other delegates because they are automatically presumed to be inferior to males. As a result, females are automatically associated with seemingly “petty” tasks, and if they do manage to be not isolated due to blatant sexism, many times females will be expected to solely work on things such as NGO representation and not given an opportunity to write clauses associated with the main solutions in a resolution, thus furthering generalizing Model UN and writing skill solely by gender. This same type of segregation can be evident when speakers are chosen for things such a draft resolution presentations, with many times females being refused spots because they are told they lack the speaking skills to go up.

A lot of the time segregated blocks are made without realization.

The issue is prevalent in various scenarios throughout a conference.

At the same time, many male delegates are expected to be the leaders in committee, being told that power is the most important thing and as males they must be the sole voice in committee. This forces many delegates to carry a power delegate attitude, as the pressure put on them because of their gender leads them to focus solely on winning and neglecting other people’s opinions.

Despite all of these unfortunate issues, there are some occasions in which the “gender divide” is nonexistent and delegates work together harmoniously regardless of sex. Situations like these are when the United Nations is accurately simulated and consensus is worked towards. It is our responsibility as delegates to shift the focus from winning and stereotypes to diplomacy and equality. The Gender Divide is a concept that should have faded from society centuries ago, and while the world attempts to combat sexism, many Model UN delegates unknowingly embrace it. A difference can only be made if a conscious effort is put into stopping sexism in Model UN, and that effort must be made by you, the delegate.

  • Ashley Inman

    This is an absolutely FANTASTIC article – something that’s always been at the back of our minds, but no one has had the courage to actually say out loud. From the time I was in high school and asked, “Wait – you’er in Security Council? Don’t you usually do like, girly stuff, like SOCHUM?” to battling for recognition in crisis-driven unmods in college, the gender divide in Model UN has made itself known.

    Females are at a disadvantage from the second they walk into the room. The social stigma of ladies and men needing to behave a certain way is already present, so males are predisposed to resort to power delegate tactics while women are encouraged to let them do the “real” work and instead write clauses about NGOs or microlending. When women start to become recognized as good delegates, they’re put down as “pushy” or “bossy”, whereas men are recognized as “assertive” or “leaders” (an androcentric phenomenon not limited to MUN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOjNcZvwjxI ).

    It appears that be a successful delegate, women must maintain a precarious balance between the the “assertiveness” of a man and the “classiness / diplomatic finesse” of a lady, whereas men can just put on a bright red tie and shout across the room.

    Let’s not forget that we’re here to simulate the United Nations, an organization that strives to eliminate these harmful gender stereotypes and break down the gender divide. The last line says it best: “A difference can only be made if a conscious effort is put into stopping sexism in Model UN, and that effort must be made by you, the delegate.”

    • Prathm Juneja

      Thank you very much for your kind words.
      I completely agree that the United Nations takes action to eliminate gender discrimination, and that as a direct simulation of the United Nations it is a responsibility for those involved in Model UN to strive to do the same. It has become strikingly evident to me that delegates who do notice the issue either choose to ignore it, or do not mention it loud enough to be heard. If we seriously want to combat sexism and gender discrimination in Model UN and in the world at large, we have to speak up against it, and I am glad you share that view.

  • Emmanuel Goldstein

    Probably the worst article I’ve read on this website.

    I’ve been doing MUN for 5 years now and I have never once been in a committee where it was completely one gender blocks. The people I’ve met in MUN are the most open and genuine people out there and to insinuate that they are underlying themes of sexism is absurd.

    Have you ever thought about the fact that maybe high school kids just don’t have great social skills? Like awkward freshman going to their first couple conferences who still not know how to talk to the other gender? Especially the bigger committees that you are referring to like SOCHUM in the comments, generally less experienced and younger delegates are there. I personally have seen many women in my crisis committees succeed and win best delegate. The fact that you are trying to say that women can’t win awards without help from the outside is insulting to yourselves, women who can actually win awards in MUN, and the men who you are trying to demonize.

    Lastly, what solutions do you propose to solve the problem? You’re basically just going off on a rant on how men should be blamed for your failure in this competition. Just because your chair didn’t like you, or that you met some awkward freshman boys (or girls) doesn’t mean they’re sexist.

    This website is here to teach people how to improve their MUN skills, not to shove feminist positions down people’s throats. Take this BS back to tumblr.

    • Prathm Juneja

      Hello,
      Let me begin by saying I am a male, and I personally have not been subject to sexism in Model UN. I wrote this article, because unlike you, I have seen rampant amounts of sexism in Model UN and unfortunately so have others who are close to me. Whereas “social skills” may be the issue in some scenarios, to many it is still evident that sexism can be seen in Model UN at most conferences.
      Nowhere in this article do I state that females do not win awards in Model United Nations conferences, as some of my closest friends who are female have been very successful in MUN and continue to strive for greatness. However, these same high achieving delegates have also talked to me about how they were put down in committee, and how they were told that they should “know their place” rather than try to strive for greatness.
      I personally think you are very fortunate to not have seen this in your five years, and that is a testament to the fact that many are unaware of the issue.
      Best Delegate is a website meant to spread knowledge of the Model UN community and create a positive impact, and the goal of this article was to spread awareness about an issue that is hindering Model UN from growing.
      As far as solutions go, I believe I addressed it in the only way possible which was at the end in which I asked delegates to make a more conscious effort to prevent sexism in committee. The goal of this article was to spread awareness so that delegates may realize that they are subconsciously creating a “gender divide” and will thus strive to prevent it.

      Thank you for your opinion.

      • Arunima Jamwal

        You go mate. Well done.

  • Ariana Tuchman

    Thank you for this article! It’s been a few years since I graduated so the MUN conferences are all beginning to run together in my mind, but I absolutely agree with your points on appearance and expectations. I recall numerous unmoderated caucuses in which females just weren’t heard unless we happened to have a loud enough voice to shout over the male delegates. As a grad student with a few years of professional experience under my belt, I have to say that this problem persists beyond MUN, but it is extremely important to recognize and catch it as high school and college students, before it becomes second nature. For females, learning how to dress professionally and comfortable without looking frumpy or too revealing can be a challenge, but it’s a lesson best learned before your first real job interview. More importantly, learning to interact with and listen to people of all genders and backgrounds is a hugely valuable skill, and I really appreciate your emphasis on that.

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  • Zach Wong

    I don’t agree with the first point. Model UN is about equality, but it’s also about practicality. If you want to be taken seriously, you must present yourself as a person who should be taken seriously. If your suit doesn’t fit, if your clothes don’t match, if you’re wearing the wrong shoes, you won’t be seen as someone who can find solutions. Physical appearance has been a part of ethos since Aristotle’s time and it will always be a part of ethos.

    Take, for example, Mikhael Gorbachev. When he came to power in the Soviet Union, he was the first leader to have a well-fitting suit and subscribe to conventional models of aesthetic presentation. How he was portrayed in the media vs. previous leaders was very different.

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