MLMs are a feminist issue

If you are or ever have been online before in your entire life, you are probably be no stranger to the sea of boss babe recruiters who participate in multi-level marketing. You may not even know it. If you have heard of brands such as Arbonne, Younique, Herbalife, Juice Plus, NuSkin or the many other companies which follow an MLM style business structure, you may have been considered for recruitment. After watching Ellie Fylnn’s shocking documentary on this subject, I wanted to look deeper into how language techniques are used to draw people in.

I am no stranger to MLMs, I know many people who work for them; I have friends and relations who participate in selling items online, recruiting others and even (occasionally) making the odd few quid. And I am by no means saying stop doing it, if it works for you! As of course this is none of my business. MLMs however do not … let me rephrase … can not work for every person involved. So if it works for you, it most likely isn’t working for others.

This post is in no way a diss (did I just say that) or a dig at people who are part of an MLM. However, after a short research into the topic, it is clear that something needs to be done to regulate the law here. Nor is it this going to be a tour of information about MLMs. I don’t know a great deal about them; I have only done some brief research. If you are interested in learning more about them, I would suggest watching Ellie Flynn’s documentary (I will link below) and definitely checking out some of the TikTokers and Youtubers who know much more than I do about the business side of things. I am merely here to talk about language (and feminism obvs!)

If you are a female social media user, you are probably no stranger to messages like these:

(I could go on but I’m sure you get the message.)

So what actually are these messages that we often just ignore or greet with thoughts like ‘what the hell is that all about’. They are effectively an attempt at either selling you an item or recruiting you to sell items under their ‘management,’ of which they will receive commission. Then the cycle continues, if you are recruited and realise you are not making the money you imagined, you will be pushed to recruit more people, so you gain commission from everything they sell. And the person above you also does, and the person above them also does, and…. you get where I’m going with this right? It works rather like this image: (yes I am aware that most business models look similar to this, MLMs on the other hand, rely on each individual BUYING the products to promote, and working solely for commission, there is no wage.)

Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) Network Marketing Business Model

Many people who I have spoken to, along with the individuals in Ellie’s documentary have reported huge losses in money, time and morale after joining an MLM and being promised the world. Many of the MLMs I have looked into require the ’employee’ to buy a starter kit of products to promote. These can range from £30ish all the way into the hundreds. And if you have been recruited by someone, they will receive commission on the kits you buy.

So where do I come in? Well, I have (briefly) researched the language used by just some of these recruiters; taking examples from Ellie Flynn’s documentary, some online journals I have found, and the experiences of people I know.

The messages above all have the same positive, welcoming vibe about them. ‘Hi beaut!’ ‘Hey Hun’ and ‘Hi lovely’ are just a few examples. These are simple changes sellers make to their cold messages to immediately adopt a personal connection to their customer. The suuuuuper OTT politeness is another common factor of recruitment messages. ‘I hope you don’t mind me messaging you’ prompts one to respond and say ‘of course not!’ when in reality all you want to say is GO AWAY! Well, I do anyway. Strangely, super politeness is also a common feature of women’s speech…….. I see a correlation here.

So how about the ‘job roles’ themselves? Many MLMs focus on positivity and empowerment, or as one of the victims on the BBC documentary explained, you need to block every negative thing out of your life, even if it is your own family. Erm….what? (please watch the damn documentary.) Certain buzzwords used across the board by MLMs when describing their job roles are:

-boss babe -presenter -district manager in training -upline -your own boss -female entrepreneur -manager -president -innovator -hustler

But to what extent is this actually true? Other examples of words and phrases I found, along with some journals researching national corpses were:

-life changing -join the family -opportunity -empowering -time for your kids -diamond status -invest in YOUR business -money=recruitment -achieve

However, some words which came up in corpuses looked more like this:

-desperate -targeted -hit list -been set upon -debt -alone

I cannot help but noticing that the language used by some MLMs is very much cult-like. A bold statement, I know. But MLM sellers and recruiters really do feel like a different category of people all together. An article from The Guardian titled’ They Have you in a Cultish Grip’ explains some women’s experiences with MLMs (I will link below.) With a huge focus on self-development, mindfulness (whatever the hell that is) and positive vibes. It is almost as if you’re not allowed to post anything that isn’t happy and encouraging. The people who I know personally who are part of an MLM seem to post on social media like robots; all the content seems scripted and fake.

The linguistic techniques used to recruit fellow potential boss babes is effective whether it is moral or not (I say not.) The use of techniques such as direct address (us, we, together, you, your business, your own boss) gives individuals a sense of community and support. In addition, the obsession with hustle culture has never been something I have agreed with. I have seen everything from #teamnosleep, to videos of ‘motivational seminars’ where leaders explain that you must invest in your business (AKA their business.) Rhetorical questions are often used too! ‘Do you want to earn money from your phone?’ ‘Do you want to be your own boss?’ ‘Are you struggling to lose weight?’. Such questions pray on vulnerable and desperate people, especially women. Young mums may feel they have no alternative than to join an MLM, after all with what recruiters promise, it seems to good an opportunity to refuse.

As the pandemic has evolved I have seen more and more women, young mums and recently unemployed people (generally females) who are joining MLMs and selling online. I think this is mere exploitation not only by the recruiters, but mostly by the bosses of the MLMs themselves, as they leave their ‘boss babes’ with no other option than to recruit others for their benefit. I find the whole thing extremely interesting but also extremely scary. It shows us yet gain the power that language holds. And how language is used to manipulate, recruit and effectively get innocent people to part with their cash.

In conclusion, all I would say is just be aware (or stay alert, because that went down really well.) If something sounds too good to be true, the reality is that it probably is. Language can be used for many good things in the word, but it can also be used to manipulate. I will reiterate I am in no way bashing MLMers and urge you to do whatever you want. I hope this post has given some people some insight into MLMs, or even just allowed you to know why you keep getting these messages. My departing comment is watch the documentary and check up on your friends and family members who work for MLMs. Oh and of course look at these memes. Please comment if you disagree, have had a good experience or a bad experience with an MLM. I would love to hear what you have to say about them! Thanks for reading as always x

@hattie.louise and @heather.elsie.rainbow on TikTok

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