Why MLM’s Are Bad News For Women

I hate MLM’s.

I’m pretty vocal about it. I wrote a post about it a while back and it is consistently one of my best-viewed posts. My friends and family in real life know that I regularly rant about them on Facebook, and I’m partial to a debate or two with a hun.

There are many reasons why I don’t like them, but as a feminist, I find them abhorrent. Why?

What are MLM’s?

MLM stands for multi-level marketing, and they encompass brands such as Body Shop From Home, Younique, Juice Plus, Avon, Scentsy and the like. They are also often known as direct marketing, social selling and various other names.

They work by having the top recruiter, who then recruits perhaps three people under them, who then each recruit people under them and so on. Recruiters make money from the sales that their downlines make, so of course, it is in everyone’s best interests to recruit as many downlines as possible.

When you draw it out as a diagram, it looks remarkably, well, pyramid-shaped.

Of course, anyone in an MLM will tell you that it isn’t a pyramid scheme. After all, pyramid schemes are illegal, but many do sail close to the wind in order to make money for their top recruiters.

Most MLM’s get around it by encouraging their reps to build an enormous inventory of stock with their own money, and then try to sell from that, or by selling to other recruits and people within the pyramid rather than external customers.

Research carried by the AARP Foundation found that 47% of Americans who became involved in an MLM lost money, and 27% made no money. Okay, so that is American figures, but it is likely to be a very similar situation here. After all, look at your local Facebook selling page – there are likely to be hundreds of MLM shillers, all trying to flog the same stuff, or asking people to join their ‘team’. It is a completely oversaturated market, yet women (and it is predominantly women) join these schemes in their hoards. Why?

They are vulnerable to the marketing messages

Statistically, women are more likely to be lower earner in a household. They are more likely to be the stay at home parent. They may have lost much of their financial independence. If someone comes along with this ‘fantastic’ opportunity to earn some money while staying at home with their kids, lots are going to jump at it. Who would blame them? It really does sound like the perfect opportunity.

It also promises them a sense of belonging to something. I know as a mum myself, there has been times where I have felt isolated and like I lost my identity. These women lavish praise on each other (as long as they have hit targets), build each other up and give each other a sense of identity and worth with the whole #bossbabe thing that MLM’s have going on. The problem is that the behaviour of many MLM hun’s – seeing all their family and friends as potential customers or downlines – ends up isolating them from their real-life support systems. If when they decide to get out of the scheme they are in, they have no one. At first, friends might seem encouraging, perhaps buying the occasional product or two to show support, or to maintain social etiquette and not appear rude, but after a while, that support almost always wears off.

Buying into female empowerment

When a woman gets into an MLM, the chances that they are doing it for some form of independence and empowerment. On its own, that’s a pretty amazing thing. I want to support any female that aims for – but not if it involves an MLM.

The whole MLM scene is about becoming a #bossbabe and #girlboss, and there is lots of talk about female empowerment. What about the men though? While around three-quarters of MLM’ers are women, there are still men that get involved. Where are the #bossman or #boyboss quotes and empowerment messages?

There aren’t any.

Can’t a woman be simply a boss? Do we have to acknowledge she’s a woman like that’s some sort of weakness? While it seems to empower, it just takes the feminist movement back several steps.

MLM’s are bad news for anyone, but for women, they are gross. I will support women (and men!) in any small business venture that they put their mind to. I will buy local, handmade products, I look to Etsy for independent female businesses and if one of my friends were to start up their own (non-MLM) hustle, I will be all up supporting them, promoting them and buying from them. But an MLM? No way. I’ll wish you luck, and be there to support you when it inevitably goes tits up, but for women, MLM’s are bad news.

3 thoughts on “Why MLM’s Are Bad News For Women”

  1. A candid and interesting post. Thank you. Not a FB user so didn’t realise the extent of the issue. I support small, British makers on Folksy and Etsy, too.

  2. My sister recently got involved with an MLM and I’ve really had to bite my tongue about it. I desperately want her to do well and think she has done it for all the right reasons (independence and a new challenge) but the advice she has been given sounds so dodgy.

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