The first time it happened, I was on maternity leave. I was approached twice, by two different family friends, offering me the “amazing opportunity” to start my own business, control my own destiny, make my own hours, and—the kicker—spend more time with my children instead of going back to work.
I spent both of my maternity leaves working part-time and clawing my way through my master’s degree, typing furtively while praying for another few minutes of baby monitor silence or reading while bouncing a baby slung to my chest. I was very grateful for the time, and loved being able to bond with my kids without the pressures of a regular work schedule, but I had no illusions that it was some kind of utopian bliss. It was work; stay-at-home moms, I salute you.
My husband owns his own business, a brick-and-mortar business that employs other people and has to pay for a lot of un-sexy things like employment insurance premiums and snow removal. Every day we walk the balance beam of business ownership, riding the bumps of the economy and holding on tight. It isn’t easy, it’s often stressful, and the idea of signing up for more of it elicits, from me at least, a visceral response—no thank you!
I’ve been solicited several times since those first two attempts and there are moments when I have to walk away from social media because there are so many people advertising these “opportunities” that I just can’t stand it any more. The cult-like mantras and testimonials can be seductive, but I don’t have any interest in turning my friendships into marketing opportunities. I have enough trouble maintaining friendships, I don’t want to make it harder by sticking kitchen accessories between us.
I have bought from these companies, and I will probably do so again because I like some of their products and I’m happy to support my friends. I’ve even dipped my toe in the water when a company I bought from lost their local representative, but I really balk at the fantasy that we can all quit our jobs, sell stuff to our friends, and live happily ever after. My one experience hosting a “party” taught me that I want to keep my friendships separate from my income; I don’t want my friends to feel that I’m spending time with them so that I can sell them stuff.
I understand that there are a lot of people who have great experiences with these companies, and I’m happy for them. If selling clothing or jewelry or beauty products makes you happy, then more power to you, but I worry about what it’s doing to us as women when our friendships become selling opportunities and we fetishize working from home while simultaneously stigmatizing the traditional workplace, portraying it as a nasty place that takes us away from our authentic identities as mothers.
I love my job; it’s the job I worked years to achieve and I find it incredibly challenging, fulfilling, and stimulating. I’m a better mother and a better wife because I’m so intellectually fulfilled at work; the notion that I would want to abandon it in favor of selling lip gloss is so ludicrous that I’m often struck dumb.
When I was first approached by someone promoting her direct sales company, I was too shocked to respond articulately. I couldn’t believe that anyone would think to themselves: “Hey, here’s a woman with three university degrees and a professional certificate… you know what she probably wants to do? Sell vitamins!” The implicit sexism in each of these pitches floored me. Are men being pitched like this? Not as far as I can tell. What would the equivalent be? Direct sales sports jerseys? Get three of your friends together and drink beer while I sell you hand tools?
These companies are obsessed with marketing to women, offering us an opportunity to do what they seem to assume we all wish we could do: leave the traditional workforce and stay home. How you work becomes a litmus test for how much you love your family. These slick marketing ploys are wrapped up in a language of female empowerment and, while I’m sure they are genuinely empowering to some women, I fear the logical consequences of what they suggest.
Do we think that institutions are going to make changes that are family-friendly when there are fewer women working in those institutions? Do we also think that it’s only women who want job flexibility and time with their kids? What about men? These companies assume that women will abandon their education and training to work in direct sales because they’re simultaneously assuming that most of those women will have spouses working in traditional jobs that provide predictable paychecks, benefits, and pensions. Where’s my crinoline? Fetch my twin set! Good grief.
So, thanks but no thanks, I don’t want to sell your products. I like my career, I like going to work every day, and I don’t think my kids are suffering because their mother works in a traditional job, one that sometimes requires travel, early mornings, and evening meetings. On days when I leave before they wake up or get home late, they have the opportunity to see how their father manages all the responsibilities of child care, meal preparation, and household management. They learn that my way isn’t the only way to do things, and they get a happier mommy into the bargain.
Also, I don’t even wear mascara.