Bryan Caplan  

Sexual Harassment Under Socialism

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From Eugen Richter's Pictures of the Socialistic Future:

In old days, in the stillness and purity of the maternal home, the young maiden used to carry on her business as a milliner, selling her wares for the most part to a house in a large way. Now she saw herself obliged to work in a big sewing establishment, and to spend the whole day with a number of women and girls, many of whom had habits and principles not at all to her mind. Her chaste maidenliness was often shocked at a good deal of the talk, and at the familiarities between the girls and the male managers. Sundry complaints she made only tended to make her position still more unpleasant. Her personal attractions likewise soon drew upon her an amount of offensive attention from one of the head managers. An abrupt repulse on the part of Agnes only subjected her to those petty annoyances and harassments in her work by which a mean nature seeks its revenge.

I make no manner of doubt that there was plenty of this sort of thing under the old system. But at least there was then this advantage, that people could make a change if anything did not suit them. Nowadays, however, many of the managers seem to look upon their workgirls as little better than defenceless slaves, who are delivered over to them. Many of the higher placed officials see all this well enough, but as they themselves act not a whit differently as regards the abuse of power, they are very lenient in respect of all complaints made to them. Under such circumstances the near relations, or lovers of maidens whose honour is thus menaced, have often no other resource left than to take the law into their own hands. The result of this state of things is, that cases of personal chastisement, manslaughter, and even murder are frightfully on the increase. (emphasis mine)

Once again, it's easy to scoff at, "If you don't like it here, you can quit" - until you see what life is like when you change the rule to, "Even if you don't like it here, you can't quit."

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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Kurbla writes:

It actually worked quite well in practice of some pseudo-socialist states, and women were well protected against sexual harassment. Here is why:

The most important reason is that the state protected workers on various ways, especially from losing their jobs. It was almost impossible to fire the worker. So, potential threats were less credible.

On the other side, workers were able to quit any moment and search for a new job. And it was easier to find new job, because full employment was one of the political imperatives.

True, even if woman changed her job, she didn't changed employer - the state. But she changed her superiors! I do not claim that it was like that in every pseudosocialist country. But this problem can be, and was already solved on satisfactory way. Also, almost full employment, and practical impossibility of losing the job certainly didn't motivated workers to work harder - but that's another issue.

david writes:

Someone who is harassed at the workplace should not have to quit to avoid harassment; this is what harassment legislation is for.

Nance Parry writes:

For an expert’s input on sexual harassment in the workplace, you should read my ebook, HOW TO AVOID/HANDLE/LITIGATE OVER SEXUAL HARASSMENT. There is much information in it about what sexual harassment is, how to handle it, and what the laws are (in California). It's also an entertaining read! You'll find it at:
I did a radio interview on 2/25, which should still be up on the LA Talk Radio website. That's at:
Good luck - Nance Parry

jean_ writes:

I would just point that predictions are difficult, especially of the future.

Dave in Dallas writes:


Predictions of the future are not easy, but the recent past makes them quite a bit easier...

In Stalin's socialism/communism, when you had a job, it was quite likely your supervisor was a political officer, in charge of making sure his employees were 'good communists', ideologically pure, not likely to corrupt their colleagues, etc.

The thing ordinary people were so afraid of under almost every circumstance was being reported to the government as some kind of enemy of the state. Charges of this nature were ROUTINELY trumped up by superiors after one thing or another, sex or a cut of someones wages or so forth.

It was SHOCKINGLY common in the Soviet Union.

If one cannot predict the future with this information available from such a recent past, one is simply refusing to see the obvious.

Ed writes:

Yup. Try changing doctors in Toronto.

Joshua Lyle writes:

So, Nance Parry, what you're saying, by the implication that your comment is somehow relevant to this post, is that California is an example of a socialist state? Your silence will be construed as agreement.

Stephan F- writes:

Hmm. This sounds familiar.
Being lumped into large age homogenous groups, social norms attacked on all sides, attacks by bullies ignored by authorities, and no where else to go.

Where was that....

Oh yeah, public schools.

Phelps writes:
The most important reason is that the state protected workers on various ways, especially from losing their jobs. It was almost impossible to fire the worker. So, potential threats were less credible.

Reporting them as an enemy of the state and having them murdered by the secret police was pretty much trivial, though. Especially for someone politically powerful, like an industry supervisor.

Steve writes:

This paragraph is also very interesting:

"The fisherman at Sassnitz, to whose house they had gone on their arrival there, is a distant relation of my wife's. The letter went on to say that the inhabitants of the coast about there are greatly incensed against the new order of things, because by it they have been largely deprived of the comfortable living they made out of visitors to the different bathing-places. Permission to go to watering-places and health resorts is now only accorded to such persons as are duly recommended by a properly constituted medical commission."

Dmitry writes:

Kurbla: In USSR, often you were unable to move to another place without some serious justification. Many towns were built around some huge factories, and changing workplace was therefore practically impossible, as it was the only work in town.
In kolkhozes, people were literally unable to leave the place till Khrushev's era.

Moreover, changing work often was incompatible with ideal communist behavior, those who did it had special name "летуны", and were criticized by local party organizations (harsh criticism was literally lethal in 30ies-40-ies and beginning of 50-ies, but usually had only financial consequences later).

Even worse, each soviet man or woman had the working book(? трудовая книжка), which was given at you first place of work and till your death. Without it it was impossible to work legally. This book was given to HR department, and they could in practice refuse to return it to you, or write something like "was systematically late and drunk, did not support communist ideas" as a reason for work termination. Clearly, you would not find any work with such a record (it was no good to try to lost it, as it was restored on your last place of work).

fubar writes:

re: abuse of the system, political correctness run amok, legal parasitism

sexual harassment laws/rules have resulted in a situation where an unethical employee can fake a complaint and threaten other workers and managers in order to get special treatment, or promotions. managers can fake harassment charges to cover up their own bullying.

Fabius Maximus writes:

I find your post confusing. The book is a satire, written in Bismark's Germany. Is you post, like the book, Teutonic humor? Or do you believe that Bismark was a Socialist?

Or are you trading on the assumption that your readers don't know the background, and will take this seriously?

Courtney Norris writes:

I agree with David.
The person getting harassed should not be the one punished. They should not have to be the one to leave. It is common that someone is sexually harassed in the work place by someone of higher authority and the person being harassed is threatened into keeping quiet or quitting to save the reputation of the harasser. This is not just unfair, it is morally and ethically wrong. No one should have to worry about getting harassed at work and if it is present, something should be done about it.

Tracy W writes:

David, Courtney - firstly, when this was originally written, feminism was not that advanced. Secondly, it is better to have the option to quit, even if you *shouldn't* have to use it. Heaven knows how a complaint will be judged by a third party.

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