I love scams. I’ll watch any documentary, listen to any podcast and read any book that details an audacious hoax. My boyfriend has been dragged to the couch many’s the time to sit with me and watch the chicanery of high-art hoodwinkings, bogus rare wine bluffings and silicone valley swizzes. Beleaguered, he instantly gave in to the inevitable when the LuLaRich documentary dropped.
e sat down together to watch the gradual downfall of LuLaRoe, a monolithic American pyramid scheme structure which galvanised thousands of housewives to hawk gaudy and defective leggings. But as the tale unravelled, so did my gleeful spectatorship. Well before the end of the first episode, I was po-faced. “Well,” I thought, “there but for the grace of God go I.”
LuLaRoe’s own founders openly bragged about using the “underutilised resource of stay-at-home moms” to peddle their vulgar but comfortable wares. Former legging merchants told the TV cameras how the opportunity to make money while staying home with their children was a “dream come true” and “like everything any mom ever wants”. LuLaRoe worked not just because it hired mothers, but because it empathised with them. I was instantly sucked through imaginary sliding doors to a vignette of myself sitting under a ‘Live Laugh Love’ motif in a big white kitchen, selling faulty clothes to other moms over sugary lattes and the comforting melody of Taylor Swift’s heartache.
I’m a very privileged person so, for most of my life, I have not felt especially marginalised, save for the standard issues that young Irish women become so used to having politicians ignore. I used to work “in” politics: literally and geographically within the heart of Dáil Éireann, tapping out news stories in a poky office above the humming chamber where laws and politics trundled along loudly and quietly, sometimes under fierce scrutiny, but often all but unobserved. I was stupid for thinking then that your proximity to politics was proportional to your understanding of it. When I went on maternity leave, I was really looking forward to being cast to the political periphery: a blissful news-free retreat full of dodies and tiny socks. I thought it would be a reprieve to be the furthest I’d ever been from that world since I first started working in it years and years ago.
But the past seven months have been the most “political” of my life. Motherhood comes with a manifesto. Abstract questions at press conferences are suddenly real and heavy realities: the financial pressure of trying to rent while supporting a family; the dream-crushing costs of buying a family home; the elusive and fruitless search for affordable and available childcare; the struggle to find supports for new mothers and pregnant people in a global pandemic; a frustrating national policy that lets a virus sweep through schools and crèches; the economic forces that can, with equal might, push and pull a woman out of the home and the workplace depending on her circumstances. I feel overwhelmed by the sense that I have just taken on the most important job of my life in a society that does little to convince me it values the work. I constantly feel like I would need to be able to split myself in two to be able to manage everything. Becoming a mother has made me the most politically disenchanted I have ever been. And if I feel like this, imagine what it’s like for women with less economic security than me.
Maybe this creeping, jaded certainty that it’s near impossible to juggle the financial and emotional demands of motherhood wouldn’t be as grating if we didn’t have to tolerate the national caricature of the “Irish mammy” — a character who sits somewhere between a Mrs Doyle and a madonna. If the role of a mother in Irish society is apparently so cherished, why does it feel like making one of the most popular life choices for women deviates in the extreme from what society allows us to do?
This feeling, if shared by other mothers, could, of course, make us fertile ground for American megalomaniacs with boxes of buttery soft leggings. Becoming a mother does not make you stupid or susceptible. It does not automatically make you a passive victim of disinformation who passes around sham pyramid scheme products like recipes. It just makes you tired.
One of the reasons LuLaRoe was able to pull women in was because, in the US, decent childcare is out of grasp for many families. That issue has already crept its way well across the Atlantic and become a reality for plenty of mothers in Ireland too. Throughout the pandemic, plenty more “multi-level marketing companies” (American for pyramid schemes) managed to suck in and financially ruin lots of other women who were desperate to find a way to be able to afford staying at home.
If someone came to my door and convinced me that they had a way for me to make money to support my family while also completely avoiding childcare costs, can I say that I wouldn’t buy what they were selling? Of course I can’t. I’d more than likely take their hand off. So I have complete sympathy for victims of LuLaRoe. It’s become too easy to exploit a desperate housewife.