(Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work

Yale University Press (2017)


Profound transformations in our digital society have brought many enterprising women to social media platforms—from blogs to YouTube to Instagram—in hopes of channeling their talents into fulfilling careers. In this eye-opening book, Brooke Erin Duffy draws much-needed attention to the gap between the handful who find lucrative careers and the rest, whose “passion projects” amount to free work for corporate brands.

Drawing on interviews and fieldwork, Duffy offers fascinating insights into the work and lives of fashion bloggers, beauty vloggers, and designers. She connects the activities of these women to larger shifts in unpaid and gendered labor, offering a lens through which to understand, anticipate, and critique broader transformations in the creative economy. At a moment when social media offer the rousing assurance that anyone can “make it”—and stand out among freelancers, temps, and gig workers—Duffy asks us all to consider the stakes of not getting paid to do what you love.


“Duffy is an excellent guide to the contemporary anxieties of aspirational labor, showing both the very calculated nature of investments these women are trying to make in their futures, while pointing to the larger social forces that shape and constrict their possibilities.”—Gina Neff, author of Venture Labor

Duffy chronicles, with clarity and compassion, what she calls “aspirational labor”—an intoxicating desire to forego the realities of today’s soulless and uncertain labor market for the allure of a more soulful connection to meaningful work. Using today’s dizzying world of social media microcelebrity to make her case, Duffy accomplishes that rare thing: advances theory with elegance, challenging all easy reads of late capitalism, while helping readers see themselves in the book’s careful, detailed accounts of people’s lives. Mary L. Gray, Indiana University and Microsoft Research

“Duffy's critically astute study reveals the intersection of pleasure and power in contemporary capitalism and clearly articulates an essential new perspective on digital labor.”— Kylie Jarrett, author of The Digital Housewife

“A fascinating, meticulously researched study that shows how these creative women exemplify modern workers. Her lessons are essential for all those interested in fashion studies, gender studies, and the creative economy.”—Angela McRobbie, author of Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries

“This immensely valuable book reveals the trapdoor for female workers who pursue their talents on social media. Duffy expertly dissects a system which attracts many, rewards a few, and exploits the rest.”— Andrew Ross, author of Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times

“This rich, original, and insightful book introduces a new concept—aspirational labor—for thinking about contemporary creative work and shows how gender and social media are intimately entangled with it. Highly recommended!”—Rosalind Gill, author of Gender and the Media

“Duffy’s seminal work unearths once and for all what it’s truly like to work in the influencer economy of blogging and social media.”—Julia DiNardo, FashionPulseDaily.com

"A necessary antidote. Duffy deftly reveals the sweat of young women content creators, offering a new perspective on gender and the digital economy."—Leslie Regan Shade, University of Toronto

“Contrary to optimists who hoped that the internet would bail women out of the family-career bind, Duffy finds that female ‘digital-media hopefuls’ rarely get paid for their work. The phenomenon Duffy describes is fascinating.”—Frances McCall Rosenbluth, coauthor of both Forged Through Fire and Women, Work, and Politics

"Smart and original. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews with fashion bloggers and vloggers, Duffy unpacks the pressures of self-branding, status-seeking, and audience-building inherent in the gendered struggle to get paid doing what you love."—Laura Grindstaff, author of The Money Shot