While originally both legally and socially subservient to men, women have claimed and exercised both rights and freedom using a variety of means.
One way women gained more freedom was through the strategic use of money. Some of the feminists from the nineteenth century had money and they made donations in the interest of expanding women's horizons. For example, the Johns Hopkins Medical School failed to open as planned because of a lack of funding. Some wealthy women gave the school money to open with the understanding that women would also be accepted. As a result, women could more easily become doctors.
Another way women became more equal players in the workforce was through war. During both World Wars, men went off to fight, leaving a gap in the workforce. Industry increased, as there was a need for war machinery. Women filled the gap by going to work. It was much harder to argue that women were too weak to work after so many women had made significant contributions to the war effort.
Even without the right to vote, women became politically involved. The Abolitionist movement, the Temperance movement, and, of course, the Suffragist movement involved women. Abolitionists sought to free the enslaved people of the south. They wrote articles, books, and even songs (such as Glory Hallelujah). They met in conventions and participated in actions such as the Underground Railroad.
Because alcohol affected the quality of women's lives (it was associated with domestic violence), women were a large part of the Temperance movement, which ultimately resulted in Prohibition in the United States during the 1920s. Also in 1920, women finally received the right to vote, following 80 years of working in the Suffragist movement.
Still another way women have become freer is through pioneering women who have taken on unexpected roles. Sally Ride was the first woman in space in 1983 and now it is much more common for women to become astronauts.
Finally, women have taken to the streets and protested their lack of rights throughout history. During the 1960s and 70s, women took to the streets, demanding equal rights and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The history of the women's movement has demonstrated that an oppressed people can take many forms of actions in order to change their own lives and therefore the world.