R. Crumb’s appearance at Virginia Commonwealth University last week has led to a campus controversy, with his comments on rape and misogyny igniting complaints from students and statements from officials:
Timothy Patterson, a Richmond College senior, cited a quote from Crumb’s speech in his response to The Collegian: “Every woman has a rape fantasy. Every man deep down…hates women.”
Andrew F. Newcomb, dean of the school of arts and sciences, sent a campus-wide e-mail on Nov. 1, stating that although the university made Crumb’s dialogue possible, it doesn’t mean it condoned the dialogue’s content.
At the heart of the controversy is associate professor Bertram Ashe, who assigned the Crumb documentary and his short story, “My Troubles with Women”, as part of his class American Misfit: Geek Literature and Culture. Patterson questioned Ashe’s right to assign such material, while Ashe responded at length:
If Patterson had come to talk to me I would have shared with him that I, too, was offended by aspects of Crumb’s work. I would have showed him where and how Crumb grapples with feminist critiques of his work right there inside his work. I would have demonstrated for him how well the text fits into our semester-long discussion of geeks and nerds. I also would have shared with him the fact that I routinely assign edgy and provocative texts that have the potential to offend students. For more evidence, just ask students in both sections of the 20th Century American Fiction class I’m teaching this semester. Or ask students in my Blackface seminar last spring (a course I’ll be teaching again next spring). “Edgy and provocative is what I do, Mr. Patterson,” I would have said, and yes, academic freedom protects me.
Although Crumb’s early track record is of, well, trouble with women, his new version of Genesis draws heavily on Feminist Bible scholars, particularly Sarah Teubal, and the struggle between patriarchal forces and a presumed more matriarchal Goddess culture. Jewish Week examines this aspect of Genesis and finds some dissension even among scholars.
Still, by citing the work of scholars to buttress his claims of textual accuracy, Crumb invites questions about his own credibility. And many feminist scholars hold Crumb’s sources at a critical distance. “My own view is that the Teubal book is admirable in attempting to recover positive aspects of women’s lives in biblical antiquity but flawed in its assumptions about the historicity of the ancestors,” said Carol Meyers, a leading feminist biblical scholar at Duke University, in an e-mail response. By historicity, she meant knowing conclusively the realities of life in biblical times.