Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Since the early days of Avon and Amway, multi-level marketing firms (MLMs) have targeted women through the promise of working from home and leveraging social relationships. With the advent of social media, MLMs have reached a heretofore unseen level of ubiquity; any woman with a Facebook account has probably encountered at least one friend hawking cosmetics, essential oils, weight loss solutions, and/or leggings, and looking to recruit other people to do the same. Regardless of the product, the language is always strikingly similar, both in form and in content: MLMs are framed as not just a way to make money, but a way to maximize your potential as a woman.
In this paper, I look at the language that women in MLMs use in social media posts to construct and perform an ideal of empowered femininity. I also consider the work done by anti-MLM activists in enregistering the language of so-called MLM “huns” through critique and parody. What are the linguistic and paralinguistic characteristics of MLMspeak? How do MLM participants present a face of individuality and intimacy through their use of a highly regimented (and often copied and pasted) register? Ultimately, I argue that MLM participants are attempting to resolve a thorny paradox: with one foot in the cold rationality of capitalism and one foot in the domestic sphere, MLMers draw on longstanding neoliberal ideologies about gender, success, and power at the same time that they purport to be revolutionary.