MLMs Are the Worst, But Judging MLMers Feeds the Patriarchy

Becoming a mom means becoming a mark for all sorts of marketing schemes, but perhaps none is more constant than invitations to join multi-level marketing companies.

If you a female lady person in our society, whether or not you have kids, you’ve probably experienced these. When we were young, it was Tupperware and Avon. Now it’s Rodan + Fields or Young Living or LuLaRoe. Every time you turn around, some friend of yours is trying to get you to buy their essential oils or nail wraps or diet shakes.

Often, they’ll also try to get you to sign up to sell them as well, and for good reason — the real money in most of these programs comes from recruiting other sellers, not from hawking the goods yourself.

When you become a mom — or when a bunch of your friends become moms — you’ll notice that the pitches ramp up in intensity and frequency, until it seems like every time you open your email or Facebook, there are a handful of messages urging you to join this online party or sign up for that MLM program.

Other people have covered these programs and their problems in greater depth than I have time to do here, but suffice it to say that most people do not get rich working for MLMs. If you’re thinking about it, and you want more than just some free or subsidized skincare products, think twice. You’re much more likely to wind up with a garage full of unsold stuff and some crushing debt than you are to become a lady boss with a fancy car and hot vacation photos.

All that said … can we stop ragging on the women who participate in these programs? I’m sincerely tired of it. I get it — it’s annoying to be pitched all the time. But here’s the thing about MLMs — they exist for a reason. And that reason is that it’s next to impossible to spend time with your family while earning enough money to support said family.

That doesn’t mean that joining an MLM is a good idea. It is almost always a terrible idea. But it’s completely understandable why women want to believe that it will work out. If you’re reading this in the U.S., you already know that we live in one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. Unlike many other countries, we also skip out on benefits like subsidized childcare, government-funded healthcare and financial support for families.

You’re on your own here. For most families, this means that every adult in the household has to work full-time and pay for childcare out of pocket. Some parents — usually moms — stay home, but that has financial repercussions beyond just giving up a few years’ salary.

I’m writing this in part because I’m as guilty as anyone of rolling my eyes at MLMs, but I’m going to try to stop. It’s not the sellers who deserve our scorn. It’s (many of) the companies who play on their desperation. And it’s a culture that makes it impossibly hard for parents to be with their kids and survive.

woman in white blazer holding tablet computer
Pictured: a woman who is just trying to live.
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