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Boss-babes and predatory optimism: Neoliberalism, gender, and multi-level marketing

Wrenn, Mary; Waller, William


Mary Wrenn
Senior Lecturer in Economics

William Waller


Abstract: Capitalism always depends on relentless sales efforts to battle against its endemic tendency toward a lack of effective demand. Multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs), which offer individuals the “opportunity” to earn income by becoming independent direct-to-consumer salespeople, emphasize and epitomize the optimism, meritocracy, and work ethic particular to our current stage of capitalism—neoliberalism. This research focuses on the co-evolution of multi-level marketing schemes and neoliberalism with a specific focus on their predation on women through “#BossBabe” rhetoric. Multi-level marketing schemes emerge from the tradition of traveling salesmen in the early twentieth century. Prior to WWII, women composed the minority of the door-to-door salesforce, their market primarily restricted to beauty products. After WWII, the number of women involved rose until women took over the majority of direct selling. Fed by the ideological imperatives of neoliberalism, growth of MLMs have increased dramatically since the 1980s, and exploded in the age of social media. Multi-level marketing schemes reinforce neoliberalism and exploit existing gender divides through faux-feminist rhetoric about female empowerment.


Wrenn, M. V., Waller, W., & Wrenn, M. (2021). Boss-babes and predatory optimism: Neoliberalism, gender, and multi-level marketing. Journal of Economic Issues, 55(2), 423-431.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 15, 2021
Online Publication Date Jun 17, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date May 5, 2021
Publicly Available Date Dec 18, 2022
Journal Journal of Economic Issues
Print ISSN 0021-3624
Electronic ISSN 1946-326X
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 55
Issue 2
Pages 423-431
Public URL


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