The role and status of women in our society has changed markedly over the last 150 years. Previously, women had very few legal rights and most societies placed women in an inferior position compared to that of men. This is often justified as being the result of biological differences between the sexes. Women were thought to be more emotional and less decisive than men. Women were also held to be less intelligent and less creative by nature. This idea, that women are naturally inferior, was maintained by various cultures which taught girls to behave according to negative stereotypes of femininity.
The social and political values of the nineteenth century generally did not provide an opportunity for women to be active in public life, to have a career, to own property, to make economic decisions for themselves or to exert any substantial control over decision-making in their lives. Many women did not actively seek to change the situation, because they believed, or at least accepted, the social values of their time.
Women, overall, had very few rights; however women of the lower classes actually had more rights than women of the higher class. Women of the lower classes did venture into the workforce, usually due to necessity. They worked in factories but never in skilled occupations.
The prime role of a woman in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was that of domestic carer. Women provided services such as child rearing and housekeeping, and support for husbands or fathers, who were considered the sole breadwinners and heads of the households. Men often married with the single purpose of having women bear them children - it was important to have an heir so that the property could be passed on to the next generation.
Women were seen as the property of a patriarchal figure. Single women were bound to the wishes of their fathers and, sometimes, their brothers. Marriage changed this slightly in that the women became the property of the husband, rather than the father.