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The recent docuseries “LuLaRich” captured the attention of America while showing the inner workings of the multi-level marketing company and how it was able to attract so many millennial mothers across the country.
“LuLaRich” filmmakers Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason are no strangers to documenting an alleged scam: They also made “Fyre Fraud,” which documented the disastrous festival that left investors and Bahamanian business owners in ruin, and ”The Pharmacist” which focused on how pill mills and big pharma companies allegedly flouted rules and fostered conditions that created the opioid epidemic.
In “LuLaRich,” Furst and Nason showed how LuLaRoe founders DeAnne Brady (also known as DeAnne Stidham) and Mark Stidham allegedly preyed upon struggling millennial mothers. While the couple has vehemently denied defrauding anyone, they agreed to pay $4.75 million earlier this year to settle allegations that LuLaRue is a pyramid scheme, the Associated Press reported.
Nason told Oxygen.com that the alleged scheme has been luring people, primarily millennial-age women, by using feminist language like “girl boss” and “boss babe.”
“I think that this MLM (multi-level marketing) in particular capitalized on those catchphrases and high educational messaging of, ‘you can have it all. You can be a girl boss,’ this kind of cheap pop feminism,” she said.
She called millennial mothers, who she deems “well educated” and “high functioning” as particularly susceptible to such language. She said that LuLaRoe, and MLMs in general, can target them because they seem to offer the dream: the ability to be an entrepreneur and a mother with a whole a community of support.
“In reality, women don’t have that in this society,” Nason told Oxygen.com. “When you're a mother, unfortunately, it’s a very isolating experience especially in the beginning and that’s a lot of when women need the most support and the most community. These MLMs in particular really sold the dream that women can have purpose, a community and have financial independence."
But, as “LuLaRich” shows, it was almost exclusively the people at the top of the organization who got rich. Many at the bottom didn’t make any money.
Nason attributes this in part to selling an anti-patriarchal structure that doesn't exist, stating that our society "hasn't evolved yet to a 50/50 structure of gender roles in any shape or form, binary or nonbinary."
"There is an oppressive cycle that is seemingly getting better but mostly cloaked in the guise of progressive thought,” she said.
While LuLaRich sold the idea of female empowerment, she said that pure patriarchy was at the heart of the leggings company.
DeAnne’s mother, Maurine Startup, founded the American Family and Femininity Institute in 1945, the New York Times reported in 1972. Its goal was to reinforce the idea that women belonged in the home. Startup also published a book called “The Secret Power of Femininity” in 1969. The following is a passage from that book, as excerpted from the NewYork Times: “Stand before a mirror in the privacy of your room and say to yourself, ‘I am just a helpless woman at the mercy of you big, strong men.’’
Such “values and lifestyles are very much at the forefront of this organization now,” Nason told Oxygen.com.
Furst told Oxygen.com that no women are operating the company in any substantial way and that even DeAnne seemingly lets Mark make the big decisions.
“If you look at the management level, none of the daughters are president, manager, director,” he said. “Most departments are run by someone’s husband.”
He added, “The men have to make the decisions in that family because it’s a purely patriarchal family.”
“It’s a patriarchal system and MLMs originally were an opportunity for there to be additional income in a home that wouldn’t compromise the gender roles so that the mother could work and sell Tupperware or Amway products from home while being the mother and not compromising any of her duties to her husband and her children,” he explained.
He added that a good portion of multi-level marketing victims, in general, are Mormon.
“I think they deserve our empathy and compassion just as much as anyone else,” he said.
One valuable resources for the filmmakers was the podcast The Dream. " We listened to ‘The Dream’ podcast in the preproduction and the production of this show. It was very insightful and it’s the place to go when you want to go much more deeply into MLMs in present day. I would highly recommend to anybody.”
Furst said that he hopes men will become more aware from watching “LuLaRich.”
“A lot of people say this is a great show for women to watch but really I think it’s a great show for men to watch,” he said.
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