Written by The Masked Commenter
Why do women are are seemingly "good people" do unethical and improper things while in Mary Kay? Here is some psychology that may explain it.
The two major psychological studies on the effects of obedience and authority, the ones that get cited in just about every discussion of atrocities, are the Milgram obedience experiments and the Stanford prison study. Both address the basic issue at hand in all cases of institutionalized wrongdoing: how and why do normal people end up doing things they would have previously considered wrong?
Milgram: What do you mean, screwing with people's minds will get me denied tenure
Beginning in 1961, Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale University, devised a series of experiments in response to the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. He set up a simple "learning study" with two volunteers, in which the "teacher" asked questions of a "learner" and then delivered a series of electrical shocks when the learner got a question wrong, ostensibly to study the effects of negative reinforcement on test-taking.
In reality, the "learner" and the observing "researcher" were actors, and the volunteer's electroshock panel wasn't actually connected to anything. The real goal of the experiment was to see how many volunteers would deliver electric shocks labeled as injurious or lethal. As the shock levels increased, the actor in the next room began to complain, started swearing, pounded on the wall, claimed to have a heart condition, and finally begged for mercy — before falling completely silent.
Sixty-five percent of subjects in the first study delivered three successive 450-volt shocks to a dead man because he wasn't answering the questions.
There were a lot of interesting variations of the experiment before Milgram got shut down for unethical experimental practices, but the basic conclusion was the same: people will do harmful things if an authority figure orders them to, with no indoctrination or brainwashing necessary. The belief that someone's "in charge" is enough.
Zimbardo: Hey Stan, why don't I take the pressure off by being even scarier than you
Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist at Stanford University, decided in 1971 to get down on the creepy psych business and set up a study on the effects of captivity on both prisoners and captors. 24 college-aged men were split at random into "prisoners" and "guards," given appropriate outfits and equipment, and placed in a mock prison in the basement of a building on Stanford's campus, so that Zimbardo could observe how both sides became habituated to the role.
The experiment was supposed to last for two weeks. It was shut down after six days of torture by the guards, including beatings, solitary confinement, forced exercise, attacks with fire extinguishers, denial of beds and bathroom privileges, and sexual humiliation. Zimbardo himself became so wrapped up in the experiment that he didn't realize how bad things were until his girlfriend showed up on day 6, demanded he shut it down at once, and presumably denied him sex for the next ten years. The conclusions were obvious: not only would normal people commit unethical acts under the guidance of authority, but when they are given the power for themselves, they become frankly sadistic.
And this has what to do with Mary Kay, please
Usually, the Zimbardo and Milgram experiments are used to talk about major atrocities and crimes: the Holocaust, of course, and Abu Ghraib, and cult activities like the Manson family murders, Jonestown, or the Branch Davidians. However, I think they also help us understand smaller-scale problems, like widespread corporate fraud, cults that don't end in murder-suicides, and of course, the behavior of people in MLMs.
1. People's response to authority is triggered by external cues. Milgram was able to get more people to deliver electric shocks when he had a researcher wearing a white coat and holding a clipboard, holding the experiment in a building on Yale's campus. A researcher in street clothes, in a regular office building, had a much lower compliance rate. The prison guards in Zimbardo's experiment wore khaki uniforms from a surplus store and mirrored sunglasses, making them look like a cross between soldiers and state troopers, and thus were able to exercise authority effectively.
Similarly, Mary Kay invests a lot of time and money in projecting a business-like, successful, authoritative image. The closed-toe shoes, the red jackets and colored suits, act as cues for both insiders and outsiders. For insiders, the color-coding lets them know exactly what place everyone holds in the hierarchy; as for outsiders, we still regard closed-toe pumps and a skirt suit as more authoritative and "serious" than other outfits — look at how female politicians dress and tell me I'm wrong.
Directors rent training centers, and Corporate holds its events in large hotels, for the same reason. The outward appearance of prosperity and of "official" status projects an appearance of authority. Even the glossy brochures and magazines help contribute to the impression that this is a "real" company — many con artists have learned that it's easy to defraud people with the help of expensively-printed literature.
2. It's easier to hurt someone when they're in the next room. Milgram got his highest compliance rates when the learner/victim was in another room, not visible. If the teacher could see the learner's distress, compliance dropped sharply.
Can you see into your downline's life? Nah, you're not supposed to be nosy and she's not supposed to share her problems, because that's negative. Negative information is discouraged because the less negative information you have, the easier it is to hurt someone. You can't see what that 450-volt shock is doing — or that $4800 inventory order — so it's easy to impose it. Of course you know it can't be good, it's perfectly obvious that the guy in the next room has had a heart attack and dropped dead, but hey, that guy with the clipboard's telling you to do it, so it must be okay. You know it's not a good idea to put thousands of dollars on a credit card, but hey, your director's telling you to do it, so it must be okay.
Interestingly enough, in a variation where the teacher had to physically force the learner to take the shocks, 30% still went through with it. Some people are just really motivated, you know?
3. Even authority figures play follow-the-leader. The situation in the Stanford prison experiment didn't start right off with guards beating prisoners over the head and all that. Someone had to start doing it. Once one or two guys got violent, and nobody stopped them, the rest of the guards saw that there were no consequences and began doing the same things, and then another couple of guys went to the next level, and it just kept building up. The real message seemed to be, for the cynical, that the only reason people don't go around beating the living crap out of each other on a daily basis is because they know someone will stop them. Once that restriction is lifted, it's every man for himself — but there's always someone at the forefront, testing the restrictions, pushing the boundaries.
Longtime Mary Kay consultants say that many of the abuses we see in the business now weren't happening when they were in — at least not as frequently — and, of course, we all know about the "new breed" of directors who frontload, make fraudulent charges, and wouldn't know how to do a facial if their Cadillacs depended on it. As with any other situation, it took a few brave, enterprising souls to see just how much they could get away with. When they realized that nobody was really paying attention to what they were doing, they started pushing hard — and, not only did they pass on their unethical practices to their recruits, they also influenced others at their level to start misbehaving, because their examples showed the lack of effective oversight in the organization. 'If they got away with it, so can we," they think, and even if they know it's wrong, they do it anyway because they know they're not running much of a risk.
4. It is nearly impossible to see corruption from the inside. Zimbardo was supposed to be in charge of the Stanford prison experiments. He was supposed to be the dispassionate observer who, among other things, was responsible for the safety and well-being of his experimental subjects. Instead, he became engrossed in the experiment's progress, making helpful suggestions to the guards and assisting them in their oppression of the prisoners. He was incapable of realizing that the system was broken and that his actions were ridiculous, because he had become part of the system and had accepted the violent, hateful terms on which it operated. Of all the participants and observers, only Christina Maslach, Zimbardo's girlfriend, didn't get sucked in — which probably explains why he later married her.
People basically figure out how to behave by observing people around them. The ability to read social signals and respond accordingly is hardwired into our brains — in other words, we're born knowing how to "fake it until we make it." Though most of our parents teach us a defined moral code when we're children, plus some good common sense, the power of our instinctive adaptation to situations can be much stronger, especially at first when we're ignorant and confused. When a new recruit enters Mary Kay, she begins to behave like her director and fellow consultants — superficially, by adopting scripts and tone and techniques, but also on a deeper level. If she sees her director pushing for recruitment and ignoring sales, she will do the same. If she was frontloaded, she will frontload her recruits. If she sees someone placing orders with others' cards or making up phantom consultants, she'll do it too, without realizing that it's wrong. When everyone around you is doing something, it becomes the norm, and people have a hard time believing that the norm can be wrong or counterproductive. If everyone else is doing it, there must be a reason, right? And they can't all be corrupt or stupid, right?
That isn't to say that nobody realizes what they're doing is wrong. As in #3, above, some people are only kept from doing wrong by the fear of getting caught, and once they realize they won't get caught, they just have a grand old time being horrible people. It's their example, though, that influences others — "oh, if they're doing it, it must be okay."
A woman's touch
Mary Kay's membership is almost entirely female. Milgram did a variation of his basic study with all-female subjects, and he noted that, while the compliance rates weren't significantly different, women reported a higher level of stress overall.
I don't believe that women are, as a whole, any better or worse than men. Some say that women are squeamish about violence — but then there's Ilse Koch, the infamous "B*tch of Buchenwald" who collected the skins of executed prisoners; Manson Family members like Squeaky Fromme, who tried to kill Gerald Ford; and Lynndie England, the woman who participated so eagerly in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. If we're underrepresented in the history of atrocities and institutionalized crime, it's probably because men haven't been much inclined to let us in on any of their business, for good or for evil.
What Milgram's results suggest to me is this: the average woman may or may not be willing to cause pain at the behest of others, but she is more willing than a man would be to swallow her objections and ignore her instincts. Though what she's doing causes her stress and emotional pain, she goes along anyway, because she's been socialized to "get along" with others — don't disagree, don't make a fuss, don't question your betters — in a way that men just aren't. A cult or MLM that preys primarily on women is therefore just as dangerous, if not more so, than others; because women want to get along, to please people, and to avoid causing a disturbance, they are even more susceptible to the basic social and psychological influences that lead good people to do bad things.