Anthropology has tried to trace the origins of female subordination. The history of family and work has questioned the capacity of industrialization to break the family-work unit and thus free women as individuals. The history of political thought and that of institutions have critically discussed the ways in which legal theories and experiences, both liberal and democratic, have treated women. Philosophy and psychology have thought about the fundamentals, risks and promises of a female identity. Sociology, economics and political science have tried to understand the forms and reasons for the vertical and horizontal segmentation of female activity. More or less nourished by these reflections, public policies have moved and continue to operate.
The political action of emancipation can be interpreted as the dismantling of three processes: imprisonment in the family, exclusion from work, submission through violence. The first consists in the expropriation of procreation, in the closure in the family and in the subordination within it. The second is exclusion from one set of activities and subordination in others. The third is the spread of sexual harassment and violence and physical abuse.
The breaking of the first block includes the legalization of the use and advertising of contraceptive methods, the decriminalization of abortion and the final decision on this point entrusted to women, greater equality between spouses regarding the rights to children and common heritage, equality with respect to establishing domicile and the possibility of divorce and separation. The breakdown of the second block includes the end of prohibitions or quotas regarding access to various degrees and types of education, to professions, to trades. This block also includes the policies of quotas reserved for women and those of equal wages. The third block includes the first attempts to penalize rape within marriage, stricter judicial practices against rapists, the public funding of shelters for beaten wives and their children.
The persistent discrepancy between form and substance of the emancipation process, between rights and social positions has been tried to remedy, especially from the seventies onwards, with various legal instruments: the reserve of posts, an expansion of the concept of equal pay, the ban of discrimination. The reserve of places or quota system has been introduced both in higher education and in public administration, especially in the United States, and with independent decision by parties and trade unions also in Europe. A resolution of the European Parliament (1988, no. 2169) called on political organizations to reserve seats for women on management bodies and lists. However, it has met with political resistance because it seems to clash with principles of equity and with consolidated interests, and has aroused legal perplexity because it seems to conflict with the principle of equality of citizens before the law. With the local electoral reform (law n.81 of 25 March 1993), the obligation was introduced in Italy not to list more than 2/3 of candidates of the same sex, but in subsequent elections the law is not, in fact , been applied. Equally uncertain has been the success of anti-discrimination strategies. According to the principle of non-discrimination, it is not enough for a career to be formally open to women; employers must not favor the recruitment of men. In the seventies many Western countries introduced laws aimed at avoiding discrimination in hiring and in careers: this is – among other things – a conspicuous part of the social legislation of the European Community (see Guadagnini and Porro, 1988), in other respects very thin. In Italy, two regulations (Law No.