If you’re going to be a diva, then own it. Was this lesson lost on Yale law professor Amy Chua, the author of an incendiary essay in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, and a new book about Eastern versus Western parenting styles, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother?
Professor Chua seems to have it all: brains and beauty; an incredible academic career, with an endowed chair at Yale Law School; a hunky husband, fellow YLS prof Jed Rubenfeld; and two lovely and accomplished daughters. (Speaking of Chua’s kids, does anyone know where her oldest girl, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, is attending, or applying to attend, college? To Asian parents, sending a child to a top college is the ultimate vindication.)
But Amy Chua may need to work on her bitch-goddess qualities. After her controversial essay about the superiority of Chinese mothers and hard-ass Asian parenting set the blogosphere on fire — and sent her book rocketing to #5 on the Amazon bestseller list — Chua backtracked a bit, instead of defiantly standing her ground.
In these interviews, Chua made a number of points:
- Her book is not a how-to guide for raising child prodigies, but a memoir.
- As discussed in the memoir, her views on parenting evolve, culminating with her “retreat[ing] from the strict ‘Chinese’ approach” (after a rebellion by her younger daughter, Louisa Chua-Rubenfeld, when Louisa was 13).
- Editors at the Wall Street Journal, not Chua, were responsible for the piece’s inflammatory tone and headline — which fail to adequately reflect the book as a whole.
After reading Chua’s latest statements, I wanted to scold her, just like she scolds her daughters.
“You call yourself a Tiger Mother? More like a tabby cat! You act all tough and mean, but after a few people call you names on the internet, you back down and turn conciliatory. You are an embarrassment to bad-ass Asian women the world over. My two grandmothers back in the Philippines, may they rest in peace — they were true Dragon Ladies. You? You are not fit to roast smores on their fiery breath.”
But last night, I actually read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother — in a single sitting. It’s an excellent read: provocative, engaging, and often very funny. Chua is brutally honest, not just about others, but about herself. And after reading the book, I have to (somewhat reluctantly) agree that the initial WSJ piece doesn’t do it justice. The “excerpt” is really a collection of the book’s most inflammatory, anti-Western-parenting portions, collected from far-flung chapters. It lacks the nuance and the narrative arc of Chua’s full memoir.
That said, Chua should send flowers and chocolate to whoever at the Wall Street Journal put that excerpt together. It’s a brilliant provocation, in the manner of early Ann Coulter (before she became a self-parody), and it worked wonders in terms of raising Tiger Mother’s profile. Chua’s book might not have become a buzz-generating bestseller without that essay. Every book publicist in America should study the rollout of Tiger Mother as a lesson in how to market a book.
And the sequence of events allowed Chua to have her cake and eat it too. After the WSJ article, she got massive publicity out of looking like The Bad Mother. But then, after the extensive media coverage (and book orders), she got to come forward and say, “Actually, I’m really not that bad. In fact, my book is about how I go from evil to good. So please don’t hate me — but thanks for the royalties!”
(Earning out a high-six-figure advance isn’t easy. But it looks like the overachieving Chua — Harvard College, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa; Harvard Law School, cum laude and Harvard Law Review; clerkship with feeder judge Patricia Wald, of the Most Holy D.C. Circuit; corporate law associate at Cleary Gottlieb; law professor at Duke, and then Yale — will once again surpass her goal.)
In any event, Amy Chua and her book continue to generate extensive buzz and debate throughout the mainstream media and the blogs. Check out the links below — including pieces in the New York Times (Kate Zernike) and the WSJ Law Blog (Ashby Jones), both of which contain shout-outs to this Above the Law post — for more discussion.
P.S. Above the Law readers, you are a bunch of wusses. According to a Wall Street Journal audience poll, WSJ readers overwhelmingly favor rigorous, Asian-style parenting. Meanwhile, ATL readers strongly support more permissive, indulgent Western parenting.
UPDATE: Some thoughts from Professor Ann Althouse on Amy Chua and her book appear here.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother [Amazon]
Mother, superior? [San Francisco Chronicle]
The Tiger Mother Responds to Readers [WSJ Ideas Market]
Retreat of the ‘Tiger Mother’ [New York Times]
Looking to Catch Up on the Amy Chua Phenomenon? Click Here [WSJ Law Blog]
Is Extreme Parenting Effective? [Room for Debate / New York Times]
‘Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother’: You Hated The Excerpt, Now Read The Book [Disgrasian]
Are Chinese mothers superior? [The Daily Caller]
Tiger Mom a Pussycat? [Adoption Talk]
Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior [Wall Street Journal]