So, as someone who has a bunch of people in my newsfeed trying to sell me things, I did read the Scary Mommy column with some amusement.
I also read through a shocking number of comments and realized that I couldn’t relate to any of them, not really. Maybe you’re like me?
On the one hand, I have to say that I am not a fan of the newsfeed full of ads when I’m really on FB to catch up with friends and families. I’m not comfortable having to reject my friends’ well intentioned sales pitches, or unsub to groups they’ve put me in. I’m not comfortable with using ‘friendship as leverage’ as so many people are taught to do to get a sale.
I’m not comfortable with those things because they’re symptomatic of a bigger problem in our society.
The comment thread was enlightening. There were a lot of reasons for agreeing with the post and nearly as many who disagreed. The tone of those posts was simply “we need to support each other, not tear each other down” and that’s what gave me pause. Something in that sentiment struck a cord with me.
When I started comparing the two themes I saw, I realized that what people who are against these marketing techniques are really railing against the infiltration of consumerism in their relationships. In my opinion, they were asking for the same thing as the people who were saying “don’t fight, this is how the sisterhood gets divided”. They were asking that the relationship come first and not be exploited or profit.
A sidebar disclaimer moment - in addition to everything in the ‘about me’, I also have a little shop. I don’t promote my sales etc on my friend’s facebook page. I don’t push friends to buy things (though I provide excellent customer service by text if they need it).
I don’t use my friendships for personal profit - nor should I. That’s what cheapens our relationships and I think it’s the sentiment that’s behind this post.
The other part of this that is off putting is that these women may feel they’re earnestly trying to just get ahead but ahead of what? Based on my newsfeed and a quick bit of searching, we’re not talking about truly impoverished families where this is a way to put food on the table. It seems to me that most of the people doing this type of direct marketing are pretty firmly in the middle class at least - it’s part of how they can afford to capitalize the expenses required to get in to the game.
So, you are trying to sell me cheap/unproven stuff I don’t really need so that you and your family can go to Disneyland? Really? I don’t begrudge you a family vacation but when you are capitalizing on our friendship and my guilt driven “yes, I’ll buy this/come to the party/etc” to make that happen, you don’t think it’s a bit weird? Especially when I give you a polite and firm “no thanks” but you continue and I end up buying the cheapest thing I can. It’s not a great thing for a friendship. Last time I checked, no was a complete sentence, after all.
If the issue is feminism and about women’s access to the labour market, as this article asserts, I could use some help in understanding how relegating working women/mothers to the world of pantry parties and selling fingernail geegaws does anything to further the perception of women as equals in the workforce? I suspect that if anything, it sets the cause of women as equals right back to the fifties when women, you guessed it, could proudly be “at home moms” and make a little cash on the side selling geegaws and make up.
And let’s not talk about the people who are exploiting her labour to profit off her. Unlike working in retail, these women are fronting the cost of the products and then hopefully, she can sell them or she’s out the cash. There’s little risk to those reaping maximum profit.
All of those issues, in my opinion, pale in comparison with the two biggest concerns I see not being addressed.
The first is - where do you think those cheap, trinkets and mixes and such come from? How empowered do you think the women and children making those in in humane conditions are feeling? If your claim is that supporting these women is a feminist choice, I would urge you to reflect on your definition of feminism and how far that extends. And is it really? You don’t think your feminist energies might be better spent on, I don’t know, supporting change in the systems that are making it difficult for mums to get (back) into the work force?
The fact is, few of us have to look too hard to find products in our house that are there cheaply and very much at the expense of others. Those of us who are feminists would do well to try to minimize that exploitation, not encourage it. To say nothing of the woman selling the product who is also being exploited.
The second is - are we sure the only way a person can have worth is by joining the consumer culture? What if that at home parent (wouldn’t it be exciting if there were more at home dads???) turned their attention to different things, non consumer things? Like what? Well, here’s a thought, instead of needing more money to buy a package of salad at the grocery store, what if that at home parent kept a garden? What if that at home parent and their kids mended their clothes and other worn out items? What if they were hanging clothes out on the clothes line? What if they were making supper from scratch (and I don’t mean I opened some boxes from scratch)? Take your kids out for a walk and discover something wild.
In reading more blog posts and comments than I should have in this debate, I kept going back to “why are we focussed on how these at home mums can have more money”? It really is how we all get trapped. I get trapped into buying it because I feel bad that you’ve paid out of pocket, especially when I know you can’t afford it. You feel bad because you spent your grocery money or the money for your new shoes or whatever on these weird things to shrink wrap your nails or wipe counters or whatever and are needing to sell. And we just stay stuck on this hamster wheel of spend and accumulate.
What if we supported these women to step off that hamster wheel and not confuse their self worth with their earnings, the name brands they dress in, or whatever else it is that’s driving this. What if we convinced at home parents to focus on at home things - like the kids, the laundry, the cooking?
Maybe that’s where feminism needs to go? There is a great book called “Radical Homemakers” out there. I’ll be reviewing it soon but why wait? Get out there and get a copy (no endorsement btw). Shannon Hayes does a great job of deconstructing how we’ve been duped into women thinking the road to empowerment comes through our purchasing power. I just have finished rereading it and can’t recommend it highly enough.
That being said, please don't mistake me for one of those "sanctity of the home” types. I do have a career outside of the home. I enjoy having my brain engaged and I enjoy being of service to people. I enjoy my shop because it’s supporting people to make things for themselves rather than buying everything ready made (I sell craft supplies). And I aim for natural products, fair trade, and low eco-impact with (as far as I have been able to determine) minimal exploitation of labour. Do I make much money off it? Absolutely not and that’s ok, it pays for itself and that’s all it need to do. For me, it’s an extension of service (as is this blog). I’m not in any of it for profit.
On that note - and before I go off on another rant better saved for a new post and before I have to pick up my kid for homeschooling afternoon- the sun is shining, I have laundry to hang out, yarn to dye, a book to write, supper to plan, a greenhouse to water, and eggs to gather.
I hope your day is a great one.