ABSTRACT

While not “the problem with no name” encountered by 1950s-era housewives, the archival profession today, bred by its feminization, faces the “archival mystique”: the duality of being a demographically female-dominated profession while women archivists still face traditional gender limitations. The archival mystique's symptoms are not “bleeding blisters, malaise, nervousness, and fatigue”1 faced by an earlier generation of housewives. Instead, manifestations found within the archival profession include leadership and professional development issues, the historical treatment of women by the profession and its aftereffects on women archivists, as well as the larger problem of professional identity and inadequate understanding and awareness of archives outside the profession, which functions as a private sphere despite being a public, professional space. As Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique spread awareness of “the problem” in America's consciousness, so too have recent archival conference panels and discussions within the professional community illuminated the archival mystique. This article examines the archival mystique's origins within the larger framework of the profession's feminization, addresses the mystique's breadth and depth among women archivists and the larger archival profession, and proposes solutions, including professional advocacy and organizing, that will result in a more dynamic and inclusive profession.

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