We love encouraging women to empower women, but it’s time to take a minute and talk about an unfortunate trend in female friendships that is the opposite of empowering. It’s sliding into the DMs of the girl you sat next to in biology class for one semester with a “Hey girl” and trying to sell her skin care products, leggings, or getting her to join your “side hustle.” It can seem harmless, but the vast majority of these scams, and they are scams, rely on female friendships as sales tactics, breaking down barriers of trust among women and ultimately bringing everyone down.

 Let’s talk about “networking marketing,”or “multi-level marketing,”  how it hurts women, and how you can empower yourself and other women by just saying no to these scams.

First, let’s break down what exactly network marketing is. Enterpreneur.com defines network marketing as “A business model in which a distributor network is needed to build the business. Usually such businesses are also multilevel marketing in nature in that payouts occur at more than one level.” Essentially, you make your money by selling your product to other people. However, this differs from just a traditional business because you are considered a “consultant” of a larger company and pay for their products or to be a member of their organization. Then, you make a small commission on the products you refer to others. Network marketing technically becomes a pyramid scheme when the money that you make is based on how many other people you can get to sign up rather than how much product you sell. Often, joining a network marketing company involves you paying money upfront or regularly to be “employed” by them, which should be a huge red flag. No legitimate company would require you to pay to work for them.  If you want to hear from women who have joined MLMs/networking marketing schemes and ended up thousands of dollars in debt, click here.

The worst part about MLMs, in my view, is how it preys upon women and asks them to prey upon other women. Ultimately it’s a toxic cycle that beats everyone down and empowers no one except the corporate higher-ups at the schemes, and yes they are the true CEOs not you.  So much of the rhetoric associated with MLMs is degrading to women, and it’s coming from other women.

“Hey girl, you’re so pretty. Can I sell you more makeup?” is not empowering women

“Hi random question, do you want to lose some weight?” is not empowering women

“Can I tell you about how these essential oils will parent your children for you?” is not empowering women

“Do you want to invest $6,000 to sell leggings?” is not empowering women.

Network marketing persists because it convinces women that they can sell mostly unneeded products to the women around them. It persists because it preys upon women who want to spend more time with their children, leave a desk job or make a little extra money. It persists because the shame silences the bevy of women who inevitable fail in mid-level marketing schemes because you are not meant to succeed. If you aren’t performing as well as you thought you’d be in the scheme, they blame you. You’re not working hard enough. They’ll say it’s because you’re not sending enough random messages to people you haven’t spoken to in a decade. You’re no longer an “empowered women” or a “boss babe,” you’re a liability. In reality, you’re going to alienate your friends, family, and even strangers if you view them only as a potential sale and not a real human being. As I highlighted above, a lot of the hooks MLM ladies send to their “friends” are thinly veiled insults about how they need to improve themselves. What if I’m happy with my weight? What if I don’t wear leggings? Then I’m of no use to an MLM-schiller. In fact. now I know not to open messages from people I haven’t talked to since high school.

What can you do? How can you avoid falling into an MLM or help a friend who is in too deep? First off, do your research before you sign up for anything. Google it, seriously. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. If they won’t tell you the name of the company you’ll be working for in a public forum, run. Look at the actual financial disclosures of these companies and you’ll see just how little money people actually make. Ask people who were apart of that business who left it. Allow them to be candid with you. If your friends express concern, ask yourself if they are actually just looking out for you. If you have a friend who has fallen in with an MLM, don’t feel guilted in to supporting them by buying their products. It will just keep them in longer and lead to a harder fall. And If someone tries to sell you a product you don’t want or need, say no firmly. Don’t concede your ground. If you’re feeling alone, either as someone who got roped into an MLM or someone who lost a friend to it, know you’re not alone. There are tons of groups out there dedicated to showing just how nefarious MLMs are, especially to women.

Always remember, telling women there is something wrong with them as a sales tactic isn’t empowering women. Putting down people who choose to work a 9 to 5 job to support their family is not empowering women. Telling women that staying at home and not bringing in income is bad is not empowering women.

Empower women by saying no to multi-level marketing schemes and the way they prey on women.

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member