May 01, 2019
Guest article by Eve Bradley
Women's March 2018
Be advised, the following article includes references to sensitive subjects of a sexual and abusive nature.
In early April of this year, an anonymous delegate from the North American circuit wrote a piece for Best Delegate about their experience with sexual harassment in MUN. I wish I could say their experience was something I hadn’t heard of before. I’ve been the friend to whom girls have come in tears after being made to feel uncomfortable of unsafe, and like the girl in the article, I’ve been the girl whose voiced concerns only to be ignored, or assured it would be handled, whilst nothing is done. I find it inordinately ironic that in a field which models itself on an organization which gives the marginalized a voice, individuals often remain inactive or purposefully ignorant to serious complaints, supporting and encouraging a culture of silence.
In my mind, the silence on the MUN circuit in the face of rampant sexism is due to the nature of how MUN operates. Staffing positions are often acquired word of mouth, based on who you know, and how well liked you are; if any woman started to really speak up, without the full support of a majority of the women in MUN around her, she would be labelled “loud”, and unofficially blacklisted, because, realistically, who wants their conference to be the one associated with having hired sexist staffers? None of them. The negative attention would be too much. This is something we are all acutely aware of; success on the MUN circuit can really help networking in the field of International Relations, and these opportunities present some really good CV boosters.
And then, what if you get called a liar? Whilst infractions in crisis and behind the staffing scenes are easier to pick out, it’s harder to call out subtle mansplaining and minor micro-aggressions. So, what if people call you a liar? Say that you’re being dramatic? Women often end up living with the constant worry that their academic achievements, with study guides and debates they have spent months designing, will become secondary to accusations they make calling out sexist and problematic behaviour. All of this to say, the pressure of being called a liar and the usually bad consequences that befall those who speak out of turn mean that MUN will never get the reality check it needs.
Another example: I recently spoke out to organisers when I was subjected to unwanted advances from a fellow male chair. I did so because it was my last conference, and my “reputation” had nothing to lose, and I was sure that this man was in the wrong. The organisers were supportive and did what I asked of them to help me. And yet, when I spoke to a couple of friends on the circuit, expecting them to be sympathetic, what was I told? That I had “SO” flirted with him, that we were drunk, and that I was exaggerating. I was told to “not let this ruin my weekend”, and to forget about it. This kind of response, whilst shocking, isn’t a rarity; I’ve heard it said to friends, and I’ve heard people talk about others with that same ideological, victim blaming standard. Its endemic, and it needs to change.
Many people on the circuit think that sexism in MUN is a rare occurrence; I’ve heard many people talk of how articles and writing like mine, Maria’s, and the anonymous writer previously mentioned, are unnecessary and “attention seeking”. Throughout my MUN career, I’ve seen and experienced so many instances of blatant sexism, that the concept of sexism in MUN being a rare occurrence amuses me. Since November 2017 alone, I’ve been endlessly compared to my male counterparts, I’ve had me and my friends’ topics and study guides compared pejoratively to those written by men, I’ve had every topic I’ve written or studied mansplained to me, I’ve been told to “not to be so sensitive” and I’ve been told to “shut up”. I see friends around me get the same treatment, I see them ridiculed for wearing short dress, I see them mocked for dressing too conservatively, I see them teased for not wearing make-up, I see them judged for wearing too much make-up, for being too dressed-up, for being underdressed, for not being “assertive enough”, and for being “too assertive”.
I’ve seen LGBTQ+ women on the circuit be specifically sexualised by men, almost like objects. Outside of the professional MUN environment at socials, people are just as bad; I’ve seen friends be ridiculed for being too sentimental, I’ve been told to smile more times than I can count, I’ve seen men leech on overly drunk girls, I’ve seen drinks being spiked, I’ve been told that “respectfully, that dress shows off all your best features” too many times by people I have never met, I’ve been in rooms where men have openly rated me and my friends on a 1-10 scale, I’ve been told that I “should feel lucky anyone wants me”, I’ve had my behaviours “psychoanalysed” by people I don’t know, I’ve been told I should be “grateful for attention”, I’ve been touched without having given consent, I’ve been screamed at in streets for rejecting advances of angry men, and I’ve been assaulted. And, to keep my “reputation” clean, I’ve said nothing.
In MUN, being nice, and being universally liked, gets you far. I’ve found that pretending, letting things that should make you angry pass, laughing at jokes you find offensive, and saying nothing when you feel belittled and are made to feel small as a woman, are all ways in which to make yourself better liked by those around you. When I am assaulted, again, I say nothing, because being loud doesn’t get you anywhere other than into a conference gossip box. This “Cool Girl” attitude is toxic in the MUN community, because it’s a learned behaviour that so many carry into the workplace. Those who speak out in work environments are often thought of as “loud”, and those who openly disagree and challenge ideas they disagree with vehemently are thought of as “aggressive” or “confrontational”, all so-called negative traits.
To tackle this, more people need to speak out; only when men are used to hearing us call out awful behaviour and treatment will women stop being labelled as other-than-normal for their “loud” behaviour. As more women talk out, the less frequent and systematic these behaviours will become, as they become less and less tolerated. Many of the things I describe above are forms of assault; verbal, sexual, physical. None of it is okay. All of it should have been called out. If a behaviour makes as woman uncomfortable, even slightly, it should be bought up and talked about.
Over the years, I’ve stood by MUN, because I believe in what MUN does. It gives people access to larger platforms to discuss world issues and gives young people a voice. I fully and wholly believe that an intellectual passion for MUN curated young will take an individual further than what can possibly be imagined. Sexism in MUN has been improving a great deal over the years, but we’re not done yet. The legacy I’m leaving isn’t going to be one of change, because my realisation that, actually, none of these little things I let slip are okay, has come way too late for me to make a change in MUN. Regardless, I can write about what the issues I see here and hope that the next generation of MUN-ers who read it will change MUN for the better. MUN doesn’t deserve to be dragged down because of implicit sexism, because it’s not what it’s about. Change needs to happen behind the scenes, not only in crisis backrooms, but also in secretariats and chairing groups.