Karl Walling, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, has been placed on administrative leave as a result of using a rape metaphor during a lecture on leadership. The lecture, which took place in May, became more controversial after the offensive statements were placed on YouTube. In attempting to make a point about leaders not taking advantage of situations, Walling was explaining Machiavelli’s theory about dominating the enemy, which is referred to as Fortuna, a woman:
“What does a leader do when the bitch won’t put out? I do not mean to be vulgar, but rather to get to the heart of the matter from Machiavelli. If Fortuna will not cooperate, then make her do so. Real men, real leaders do not take no for an answer. Fortuna, said Machiavelli, is a woman, and when it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her down, moreover, she will like it.”
While Mr. Walling has apologized and it is clear that he was using the analogy to illustrate how leaders should not behave, the ideas presented by his statement are quite worrying.
Misogyny and sexual assault are big problems in the military and much of the trouble relates to a macho culture that is presented to soldiers. As the military is based upon following orders from one’s superiors, there is a high degree of conformity and group-think, resulting in situations where few are willing to challenge common assertions, even if they may be inappropriate or ultimately harmful to the armed forces’ mission. It is very hard for victims of sexual assault to receive proper justice as they are often ignored, dismissed or actively shamed and punished for speaking out. For a long time the military would likely have let comments such as those made by Mr. Walling slide, however, there have been recent efforts to encourage victims to come forward so that they can receive proper treatment and offenders can be penalized. Although these efforts are indeed encouraging, it is clear that if those such as Mr. Walling, who serve in positions of authority, hold such views, it is likely that the military still has a long way to go in helping to stamp out the mentality that violence, particularly against women, is the most acceptable — and effective! — way to deal with difficult situations. Thus, while the suspension of Mr. Walling for his statement is a good first step towards reforming misogynistic military culture, more policies must be put into place so that such incidents do not happen in the future.