Throughout most of history, women generally have had fewer legal rights and career opportunities than men. Wifehood and motherhood were regarded as women's most significant professions.

     Women were long considered naturally weaker than men, squeamish, and unable to perform work requiring muscular or intellectual development. As a result of this misconception, women suffered many economical injustices. In most preindustrial societies, for example, domestic chores were relegated to women, leaving "heavier" labor, such as hunting and plowing, to men. Furthermore, laws prohibiting women from working more than an eight-hour day, or from working at night, effectively prevented women from holding many jobs. Laws in some states prohibited women from lifting weights above a certain amount, varying from as little as 15 pounds (7 kilograms), again barring women from many jobs. Working women often faced discrimination on the mistaken belief that, because they were married or would most likely get married, they would not be permanent workers. In fact, most women who were married could not work. Poor women had to work, but they earned less money than men for the same number of hours.

     The myth of the natural inferiority of women greatly influenced the status of women in society. Traditionally a middle-class girl in Western culture tended to learn from her mother's example that cooking, cleaning, and caring for children was the behavior expected of her when she grew up. Tests made in the 1960s showed that the scholastic achievement of girls was higher in the early grades than in high school. The major reason given was that the girls' own expectations declined because neither their families nor their teachers expected them to prepare for a future other than that of marriage and motherhood. Formal education for girls historically has been secondary to that for boys. As soon as women married, they were forced to drop out of school. During the early history of the United States, a man virtually owned his wife and children as he did his material possessions. If a poor man chose to send his children to the poorhouse, the mother was legally defenseless to object. In case of a divorce, a man obtained custody of the children. There were even laws telling women what to wear. 
      The beleif that "Politics are no place for women," also restricted women in many ways. For example, women were not allowed to vote in local, state or presidential elections. Therefore, women were unable to voice their opinions in the government, or change the law.