How did feminism of the antebellum period challenge traditional gender beliefs and social structures?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The feminism of the antebellum period was very much a protofeminism.  It was not anywhere near to being as assertive as feminism is today.  However, for its time, it did represent a challenge to traditional beliefs about gender roles and social structures.

In the antebellum period, there was a widespread belief that women and men should operate in separate spheres.  Women were believed to be better suited for the home.  They were supposed to be more moral than men and therefore it was deemed proper for them to stay out of the less moral world of public affairs. They were to stay home and create moral and wholesome environments for their children to grow up in and for their husbands to recuperate in after being out in the public sphere all day.

The feminism of this period started to challenge these ideas, if only in a limited way.  There was not much talk at this point of equal status for women.  Instead, there was talk of equal rights.  In other words, women were asking to be made equal to men in the eyes of the law.  They were even asking, at least at the Seneca Falls Convention, for the right to vote.  In this way, they were pushing against the social structures of the day, trying to be seen as legally equal to men.