MLM Culture: Feminism and the Myth of Having it All

By now, you’ve probably seen or at least heard about LuLaRich, a new documentary series on Amazon Prime. The four part series delves into the MLM {multilevel marketing company} LuLaRoe, best known for their “buttery soft” leggings, outrageous, limited edition patterns, and peppy #bossbabe saleswomen who hustled their inventory via home parties and Facebook Live. But now, several years after the height of its craze, the company is better known for its bad press, lawsuits, and disgruntled former distributors, many who were left with thousands of dollars in losses and moldy, smelly leggings they couldn’t give away.

MLM Culture ≠ Feminism

A lot of ink has been spilled about the toxicity of MLM culture: how it preys on vulnerable women, how it strains female friendships, and how in the vast majority of cases, the only people who benefit financially are those at the top of the pyramid structures. 

But even though most women know the odds of sustainable financial success in joining an MLM are slim to none, these companies continue to saturate the market, in the name of empowering women and feminism. 

This is a lie. MLMs do not promote feminism. Feminism defines the movements and ideas that establish the political, economic and social equality of the sexes. Feminism gives women choices. But the very definition of choices implies just that- that you have to decide one or several things over others. And with choices also come losses- as history has proven over and over, it is a myth that women can have it all. 

Our culture idealizes motherhood as a pure and selfless calling- that we should devote every ounce of energy into nurturing and steering our children on the path to success. But it also idealizes women hustling and contributing to the family’s finances- but not at the expense of time away from the children. It’s an impossible standard, and one that MLM culture claims to have the means to meet. 

MLMs promote the false premise that women can {and should} have it all: that they can stay home with their kids {because motherhood is a calling}, maintain the ideal body and clothe that body fashionably {with products hawked by an MLM of course}, and at the same time, earn a full salary, or at least enough money to afford the cost of extracurriculars and a Disney vacation for the family. Oh, and as an added bonus, these companies offer a “community” of other women with the same goals- ideally supporting and cheering each other on as they build their respective networks of future bossbabes. 

And while there are indeed MLM “success” stories where women appear to have achieved all of these goals, these examples are outliers at best, and at worst, total smoke and mirrors. Because no one is going to tell you that in order to earn that white Lexus or that all-inclusive vacation or that six figure bonus check, there are costs, as there are with any choice we make. There is no way a woman at the top of an MLM at all times gives 100% to her family and 100% to her business- the math simply doesn’t add up.

And here’s the thing: none of us give 100% to our kids. And we shouldn’t be expected to. Motherhood may be a calling, but it’s not a calling to martyrdom. We are allowed to have our own interests, to make our own choices, and be able to own those choices. 

It’s Always the Patriarchy

MLM culture upholds the patriarchy with these impossible standards on women. How many times have you heard of a man feeling the pressure to “have it all”- to be 100% present with his kids and 100% focused on building his career? The answer is zero times. Is there a male equivalent of the terms Bossbabe and Mompreneur? No there is not. Our society accepts and even celebrates that men work outside the home {or as a result of the pandemic, at home but with the expectation of no interruptions from children} a minimum of 8-10 hours a day in order to provide financially for the family. There is no expectation that he should feel guilty for this choice, or figure out a way to care for his children, maintain a household and close lucrative business deals at the same time. So why do we expect women to figure out how to do this by nonstop hustling

MLMs take advantage of the under-appreciated, underpaid value of traditional “women’s work”- childcare, housework, the mental labor of maintaining the logistics of family life, and the development and nurturing of social relationships. The skills needed to start an MLM business closely parallel these same skills- especially the building of relationships in order to recruit a downline. And these are valuable and impressive skills no doubt. But for women to use them in an industry where the majority of participants are women and the vast majority of those women ultimately fail- that’s not doing anything for women’s empowerment. 

True Support of Women

As long as these impossible standards on women, especially mothers, exist, MLMs will continue to pop up and prey on the most vulnerable. LuLaRoe’s fall from grace is only one example of what happens when a cheap imitation of empowerment masquerades as the real thing. 

There is no benefit to bashing women who sign up for MLMs. For the most part, they are victims of a culture and a system stacked against them that continually lies to them and lures them in with the promise of limitless opportunity and fortune. And that’s enticing. If we want to truly empower women, we need to stop signing up for “business opportunities” or purchasing products from friends in the name of “support” that only puts money in the pockets of those at the very top.

Truthfully, what we need to do {through activism and pressure on our elected leaders} is change the very systems that breed inequality and limit women’s choices. These changes include better supporting women before and after childbirth, with robust healthcare benefits, mandated paid maternity leave, and high quality, affordable childcare so woman can choose to work outside the home if they wish. Society also needs to put more pressure on companies to offer flexible work hours, part time work, or work-at-home options for women who truly do want to contribute financially to their families.

And most importantly, we need to stop spreading the myth that women can have it all. We can’t. But we can have choices and should be able to own those choices without shame, and without having to recruit friends for our downline. 

What are your thoughts on MLM culture and how it influences modern motherhood? Do you believe these companies help or hurt women and feminism? 


 

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Elizabeth was raised in Houston and met her husband Ryan shortly after graduating from Texas A&M with a journalism degree. A few years later, Grayson {Sept 2010}, turned Elizabeth’s world upside down, not only with his sparkling blue eyes and killer smile, but with his profound disabilities and diagnosis of Mitochondrial Disease. After two years of navigating the world of special needs parenting, Elizabeth and Ryan were blessed with Charlotte {Jan 2013} and Nolan {Sept 2015}, perfectly completing their party of five. Elizabeth and her crew live in Katy, and when she can steal a few moments for herself, she can be found out for Mexican food and margaritas with girlfriends, binge-listening to podcasts and audiobooks, or trying once again {unsuccessfully} to organize her closet. In addition to her role as Managing Editor of HMB, Elizabeth writes about faith, politics and special needs parenting for publications like Scary Mommy and HuffPost.You can connect with Elizabeth on Facebook,Twitter, Instagram, or ElizabethKBaker.com

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