This paper discusses the complex role that gender plays for the female researcher in a male prison. I reflect on how gender influenced my research outcomes and my experience of the field by drawing on ethnographic research in a total (male) institution. I found that whilst being female facilitated access and the building of relationships with participants it also posed challenges in the field. But more than the simple pros and cons of gender in the field, interestingly, the advantages of being a female were paradoxical. Whilst stereotypical female traits such as being nurturing and empathetic encouraged prisoners to open up, I gained respect and admiration by performing masculine activities such as using tools and, quite literally, getting my hands dirty.