Lions, Tigers, and Bear Moms- Oh, My! (from Contexts)

A piece I wrote on the aftermath of the Tiger Mom Amy Chua controversy recently appeared in Contexts-- a sociology magazine for the general public. Hope you enjoy it and would love to here what you think!

On January 25, 2011, Stephen Colbert announced, “My guest tonight is a Yale professor who has written a controversial book about the demands Chinese mothers put on their children. Not Harvard? Her mother must be so disappointed. Please welcome Amy Chua!” Chua’s appearance on The Colbert Report capped off a whirlwind media tour that most academics can only dream of. Today Show? Check. CNN? Check. And, then, of course, Colbert.  Chua’s month of controversy started on January 8, 2011 when The Wall Street Journal ran a story, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” in advance of the January 11th release date of her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. 

The Journal article, comprised of excerpts from the book, spread like wildfire as people emailed, tweeted, and shared the link on Facebook.  Over 8,000 people commented on the article on the Journal’s website, telling Amy Chua their thoughts on her parenting practices, which include: calling her daughters trash when they do not perform up to her expectations, forcing the girls to practice their musical instruments for at least three hours a day, and even denying them dinner if they do not perfect a piece.  The comments definitely weren’t all pretty.  But the press helped propel Battle Hymn to the New York Times’ Bestseller list, giving credence to the adage “all press is good press.”

One of the most common memes in press coverage was an attribution of public agitation to abiding fears of the “China Threat.” A few weeks before the Chua controversy, educators had been stunned by the superlative test scores coming out of Shanghai on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  Some commentators thought Battle Hymn could be America’s new “Sputnik moment”—except that Amy Chua was born in the United States and her parents grew up in the Philippines as Chinese immigrants.


HuffPo Piece: Cinderella Ate My Man-Eating Tiger Daughter

This originally appeared on The Huffington Post on April 1, 2011. Note that the same day my piece was posted, news broke that Amy Chua's eldest daughter, Sophia, was admitted to the Harvard class of '15 (during the most competitive admissions cycle in Harvard's history, with a 6.2% admit rate); Sophia will be matriculating in Cambridge this fall.

Looking for advice on how to raise a successful daughter? Recent bestsellers offer conflicting advice. In Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein trumpets Girl Power over pink princesses if you want a smart, independent woman. But Kay Hymowitz writes in Manning Up that you should poo-poo this New Girl Order -- at least if you want your daughter to be a wife and (working) mother someday. And then there's the now infamous Tiger Mother Amy Chua who painstakingly details how she "Chinese parents" her two daughters to be the best at everything they touch in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother; her girls tend to trounce everyone (girls and boys) while wearing princess-style dresses.

Chua recently spoke at Harvard (otherwise known as mecca for Tiger Moms), where she proclaimed, "I could not in a million years imagine my book to be perceived this way, as preaching Chinese parenting as superior... This is not a parenting book. It is a memoir." Indeed Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother covers Chua's childhood and family life, and describes how her relationship with members of her family changed while raising her over-achieving Chinese-Jewish-American children. These humanizing details are interspersed between the more horrifying anecdotes -- well known, thanks to the excerpt printed in The Wall Street Journal -- about denial of dinners and sleepovers, and threats to burn stuffed animals and give toys away.

As Chua was excoriated in the media, Orenstein's own parenting book-cum-memoir appeared. Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a spirited journey through the princess-industrial complex created by Disney and fed by American Girl, Club Libby Lu, other toy companies, child beauty pageants, and many more. Orenstein, a journalist who specializes in women's and girls' issues, details how this pink culture developed historically and how it impacts girls today at younger ages than ever before--including her own daughter, Daisy.

In many ways Chua and Orenstein's families and concerns are similar. They both have daughters. In fact, they both are raising Asian/Jewish daughters. They both find something wrong with current American parenting techniques, especially when it comes to raising their girls. But Peggy Orenstein is revered and Amy Chua is reviled, and when you read the books you can see why. As unyielding as Chua is (even when conceding defeat), Orenstein is questioning -- a crucial difference between the two books. Orenstein is also humorous. Chua claims she was trying to be a funny writer, but any self-deprecating humor just doesn't come across as genuine, especially when she repeatedly lists the accolades of her various family members. In the end, Orenstein is just more admirably ambivalent, honest, and likeable about mothering a young girl today.

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