How direct network companies actually do not empower women and deepen inequality
And how it is normalising and sugar-coating exploitation
In this post-pandemic world, working from home is more important than ever and more people are seeking out opportunities they can do from the comfort of their home. While direct network companies (or most commonly known as Multi Level Marketing companies) are nothing new.
Aimed at achieving the dream of financial security, flexible working pattern and living the dream lifestyle, the main target group of these companies are women. Seemingly building on the feminist movement, they created a “bossbabe culture” and roped single mothers and women in a tough spot, with the promise of a successful venture and a solution to their struggles as well as the promise of a supportive community and sense of belonging.
But once they successfully recruit a person, that is when the manipulative tactics really begin. In reality, a substantial number (approximately 94%, according to the FTC) of people recruited lose a significant amount of money and do not only acquire significant debt, but lose friends and existing social networks due to the aggressive sales and recruitment tactics expected from them.
In reality, while all of these companies are seemingly selling products (shampoos, clothing, or other beauty products), they are selling the idea and the illusion of a better life and a sense of security as an individual. However, under the surface only a select small number is able to achieve this and not end up in crippling debt and ruined relationships.
This is what led to the rise of the anti-MLM movement in recent years, where women from different companies and countries share their experiences and highlight the tactics used to rope people into the business for their own personal gains.
But how is direct networking disempowering?
The main target group of these companies are women who are already in a vulnerable position. One might even state they are preying on these groups and exploiting their desperation for creating a better life for their children and their families.
But at the same time, these companies build on guilt and reinforce patriarchal, outdated and archaic expectations.
“Don’t you want to be there for your kids and create a nurturing environment for your whole family?”
And the answer is normally yes, so these women fall victim to the underappreciation of the labor that is maintaining a household and raising children, because how many times have we heard that “being a stay at home mom is not a real job”? And when these women fail at this venture (because statistics show that most people joining these companies end up losing money and ultimately quitting), they end up blaming themselves and doubting their abilities. And that is the exact opposite of empowerment. And let’s not even mention the tremendous financial loss they have to face.
In addition, there are multiple reports of harassment when someone tries to leave the company after repeated losses. That previously welcoming and seemingly inclusive and accepting community becomes an echo chamber of guilt tripping and tell distributors that “they didn’t work hard enough”.
How can we truly empower each other?
One important thing to realise that while there are new companies popping up almost on the daily, it is not productive to blame those who have signed up to them. The real issue lies with the fact that people on the top of these companies are using cult tactics to sign more people up for their own benefits.
These companies are building on the popularity of the “hustle culture” and to end this, the issue has to be addressed at the route, which includes creating a healthier relationship with work and money, as well as observing the issue from a policy and legal perspective and calling for a change in how these companies are regulated.