Against a backdrop of the growing crisis in higher education, the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and a longer-term precaritisation of the youth and graduate labour market, the last 2 years have witnessed an increased visibility and promotion of flexible, entrepreneurial and often digitally mediated forms of self-employment addressed at young women, including the ‘side hustle’. With media declarations such as ‘the university side hustle has come of age’, universities themselves have begun embedding initiatives that seemingly help students launch a ‘student side hustle’ as they turn passions into entrepreneurial projects. The student side hustle has been advocated as a feasible way of not only supplementing income while studying but also investing in one’s future employability in the context of increasingly uncertain graduate outcomes. In this article we connect the emergence of the student side hustle to a broader postfeminist landscape in which (young) women are invited to engage in entrepreneurial self-employment through the promise of ‘passionate work’, financial autonomy and time-freedom. We demonstrate that in the context of higher education, where women outnumber men and dominate the degree subjects increasingly badged as ‘low value’ due to declining graduate outcomes, institutional incitements to engage in the student side hustle are distinctly gendered. Crucially, we contend that this framing and promotion of the student side hustle – in which women become the ‘poster girls’ of entrepreneurialism – works to facilitate and sustain the myths and ideals of postfeminist success while masking the ongoing crises and gendered inequalities that underpin contemporary higher education and the graduate labour market.
- side hustle