The “Tiger Mother” Myth

10 Feb

Yale Law School professor and author Amy Chua recently caused an enormous stir when her article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” was published in the Wall Street Journal. The article’s presence was–along with multiple interviews and booktalks–intended to draw attention to Chua’s most recent book, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” The short article seemed to draw on the primary and provocative talking points collected in the book, and began with the following list of activities no child of Chua’s would ever be allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a play-date
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.

Chua seemed to believe that it was because of these prohibitions, her “meanness,” her absolute inflexibility and her “Chineseness,” that her two daughters have excelled to the degree that they have.  Chua equivocates a bit on her generalizations, adding that any mother can be a “Chinese mother,” the term isn’t reserved solely for the native Chinese. Also, any mother can be the converse–the dreaded “Western mother,” i.e. the pliant woman who lets her child play sports, learn how to blow a horn, and maybe even watch television.

Chua’s manifesto-in both article and book- has caused an enormous stir; thousands of comments have been added to the Wall Street Journal webpage, the New Yorker recently included an article concerning both the book and its reception, hell, she even appeared on the Colbert Report (claiming she’d been taken too literally).

Okay, if Chua didn’t intend to be taken literally, let’s then suppose that her manifesto was intended as hyperbole. If taken as such, does the weight of her words lighten at all? Let’s see….China contains nearly one and a half billion people. Nearly one-half of these people are female; I would guess that at least half of these females have given birth. So, if taken literally, around 1/3 of a billion Chinese mothers rule their tiny kingdoms with iron fists. If taken analogically….how would this be taken at all? I don’t know that these musings of Chua can be taken as exaggerations; because to be taken at all they must already be assumed as such.

Chua’s comments are so unprovable, so ridiculous, so categorically generic as to become meaningless. Consider the following:

  1. Does Chua possess first-hand knowledge of a majority of the Chinese mother population?
  2. Is Chua considering Chinese-American mothers in this equation? And, if so, how does the American-ness not render them the dreaded “Western”?
  3. How does the one-child rule still extant in China affect her declarations?
  4. What are the sex differences at work in such “parenting”? i.e. if Chua had boys would they respond the same way to her dictatorship as girls?
  5. If Chua intends to be describing the general state of mothering in the Republic of China, is it correct to assume that most families can afford music lessons, possess televisions, attend high schools (that contain drama departments)?
  6. And, most importantly, if any mother can be “Chinese,” just as any mother can be “Western,” how can any of this ultimately be deciphered? Who’s creating the glossary of terms? Who’s deciding what makes the best mother? Is the simple fact that Chua’s a “mean mommie” make her an expert on anything?

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