‘Politics is dirty’ is a truism, a taken-for-granted reality in much of the world, particularly in India. Its implications are likewise seen as inescapable. Scholarship examining women’s political underrepresentation often cites the ‘dirty’ nature of democratic politics as a key disincentive for women to participate. While not disputing that politics is, in some respects, ‘dirty’, I question the mechanisms through which it is said to hinder women’s political representation. Drawing upon ethnographic research with female party workers and elected municipal councillors in Dehradun, North India, I analyse how ‘dirty politics’ positions women as ‘out of place’ within the political realm. While both men and women engage in acts of political care, men can more easily transgress the boundaries between them, straddling both ‘dirty politics’ and a ‘politics of care’. This production of the ‘political’ as a realm unsuitable for women or mismatched with their activities, is one factor contributing to the underrepresentation of women in politics in South Asia, and beyond.