• women's work;
  • dirty work;
  • gender;
  • occupational culture

This article seeks to explore the world of the gynaecology nurse. This world defines the gendered experience of nursing; that is, women in a women's job carrying out ‘women's work’. It is also a world that receives scant public recognition due to its association with the private domain of women's reproductive health. Many issues dealt with on a daily basis by gynaecology nurses are socially ‘difficult’: cancer, infertility, miscarriage and foetal abnormalities; or socially ‘distasteful’: termination of pregnancy, urinary incontinence, menstruation and sexually transmitted disease. The ‘tainted’ nature of gynaecology nursing gives it the social distinction of ‘dirty work’ but does not deter the gynaecology nurse from declaring her work as ‘special’, requiring distinctive knowledge and skills. Qualitative data collected from a group of gynaecology nurses in a North West National Health Service hospital displays how they actively celebrate their status as women carrying out ‘dirty work’. Through the use of ceremonial work that continually re-affirms their ‘womanly’ qualities the gynaecology nurses establish themselves as ‘different’, as ‘special’, as the ‘other’.