Cultural patterns are traditions and customs passed down from one person to another in a shared community. In the United States, cultural patterns have prevented women from being treated as equals socially, economically and politically. Over time, feminism, a movement that advocates for women's equality in all aspects of life, has responded, and still continues to respond, to persistent inequalities that restrict women's lives. In fact, the feminist movement might not have evolved if cultural patterns had historically treated women and men as equals.
Cultural patterns in the United States during the first half of the 20th century resulted in the majority of women being stay-at-home mothers or homemakers. As more women desired to enter the labor market, feminism responded by advocating for the inclusion of women in the workplace. Feminism also addressed the fact that women were being excluded from certain industries, and these efforts resulted in women having more occupational choices. Now that most women work in the labor market, feminism has focused on the need for men and women to be paid equal wages.
Feminism has also responded to the religious aspect of the United State's cultural patterns. Historically, women's role within Christian churches was very limited. Feminism advocated for women to have an unrestricted role within the church. Many religious organizations responded by changing official policies to allow women to become leaders and pastors of churches. Although feminism has resulted in the majority of Christian churches treating women as equals, some denominations, such as the Catholic Church, continue to refuse to allow women to hold leadership positions.
Prior to the second wave of feminism, which began in the 1970s, women had limited control over their bodies. One of the most notable results of feminism is the ability for women to control reproduction through unrestricted access to abortion and birth control. In addition, prior to feminism, health care was androcentric, or solely focused on male bodies. It is now culturally acceptable for women to create their own birthing experiences, and medical advances and research are focused equally on men's and women's bodies. However, there has always been resistance to some of these gains for women, which reflects current cultural patterns among some groups that do not fully embrace women having control over their bodies.
In the United States, the feminist movement was established early in the 20th century as a response to women being unable to vote. Although American women were granted the right to vote in 1920 through the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, feminism has continually called for women's equal access to political office. This has had a significant impact on cultural patterns in the United States, with women being elected to Congress and working to change laws that prevented women from being treated as equals, and create new laws that improve the lives of all women.