Amy Chua: return of the Tiger Mother.

That’s the question that occurred to me after reading the interesting New York Times profile of Amy “Tiger Mother” Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld. In advance of the February 4 release of Chua and Rubenfeld’s new book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (affiliate link), the Times decided to profile this pair of prominent professors at Yale Law School.

The Times article contains some interesting new tidbits — including, for example, the elite Ivy League college that just admitted Chuafeld’s youngest daughter….

(If you’re tired of reading about Professors Chua and Rubenfeld, why are you here, after the jump? You should have just scrolled past this article on the Above the Law homepage. And if you’re getting Chuafeld fatigue, don’t blame ATL, blame the NYT — which featured a lengthy excerpt from their book last weekend, and which has this profile of them in this coming weekend’s magazine.)

After the publication of her last book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (affiliate link), Professor Chua received a lot of flak for her strict parenting methods, which her critics decried as excessive, even abusive. But you can’t argue with success: the Tiger Mother’s oldest cub, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, got into both Yale and Harvard (and picked Harvard, where she’s now a junior).

In the wake of the criticism, Professor Chua made a number of points. She emphasized that Tiger Mother was a memoir, not a parenting manual; that her views on parenting evolved, and softened somewhat, over time; and that the most excessive parts of the book were written somewhat ironically. (These defenses led me to previously question whether the Tiger Mother was really that fierce.)

The new Times profile, by Jennifer Szalai, provides additional support for this kinder, gentler view of Professor Chua. In this passage, Szalai compares the personalities of Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld:

Chua and Rubenfeld have been living together in New Haven for more than a decade, but to hear her tell it, they come not so much from different backgrounds as from different planets — though they’re not the henpecked husband and the dragon-lady wife of the public imagination. “He’s a bad boy,” she says. “He doesn’t mind people being angry with him.” Chua prefers to ingratiate herself, often deferring to others. “I love authority figures, I love experts.” They’ll go to a museum, and he’ll wander around, taking in the art, while she waits in line for the plastic audio guide. At a restaurant, he’ll ask to be seated near a window, whereas she’s willing to sit wherever she’s told, even if that’s next to the bathroom….

“I don’t want to be controversial,” she said. “I just want to be liked.”

I can totally identify with Chua’s mindset. Even though I’ve launched two websites, Underneath Their Robes and Above the Law, that have sometimes ticked people off, in person I’m something of a “pleaser.” So I can relate to a law professor who wrote an incendiary book — or two, if you count The Triple Package, which has already ruffled feathers — and yet doesn’t like to be hated.

Maybe this desire to be liked is an Asian thing. And perhaps it’s a sign of insecurity, the second item in the triple package of cultural attributes that generate success, according to Chuafeld.

There’s no doubt that Professors Chua and Rubenfeld are hugely successful, as law professors and as authors. The Times profile notes the “glowing notices” given to Chua’s earlier, more academic books,
World on Fire and Day of Empire; the international bestseller status of Rubenfeld’s novels, The Interpretation of Murder and The Death Instinct (affiliate links); and both professors’ popularity among students, reflected in teaching awards.

Their parental prowess merits mention as well. Their oldest daughter, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, is a junior at Harvard, where she’s studying philosophy and Sanskrit (topics that she discusses on her blog, new tiger in town). Their youngest daughter, Lulu Chua Rubenfeld — the “rebellious” one, from the pages of Tiger Mother — is also in good shape academically:

As Chua and I got ready to leave the house, she walked over to where Lulu was sitting [and wrapping Christmas gifts]. “Is there some homework you should be doing?”

“I’ve already done my physics test,” Lulu said, curling some ribbon with scissors.

“But you should send an email to your teachers to explain why you’re not there.”

“They know I’m sick.” Lulu was at home with the flu. “You called in my absence this morning. They put it on the attendance sheet.”

Chua insisted Lulu should send an email anyway, especially because just two days before, she was accepted at Yale. “They’re going to think you’re arrogant: You got into college and you’re not going to class.”

Chua stared at her daughter expectantly. Lulu then did what any self-respecting high-school senior would do. She rolled her eyes and continued to wrap her present.

Has anyone optioned the television rights for Tiger Mother? This scene sounds like something straight out of a sitcom. Amy Chua — a tenured law professor at Yale, an international bestselling author, and one of the 100 most influential people in the world — gets eye rolls rather than obedience from her daughter.

(In fairness, it’s something of an exaggeration. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting both Sophia and Lulu, and they are well-behaved, well-adjusted, and close to their parents. Congratulations to Lulu on her Yale acceptance — but note that it’s non-binding and that Lulu is applying to other schools, so she could end up elsewhere in the end.)

Definitely check out the full profile, which is fun read. Here’s the final paragraph, which I found a bit… odd:

The sky was getting darker as Chua drove us toward downtown New Haven. She had her forearms pressed against the wheel to get a better view of the road, which made her look hesitant. At one point we were stopped at an intersection when someone banged loudly on the back of the car. “Did I — ” she began. What happened made no sense. She’d stopped because the light was red. Had she really done something wrong?

Is the Times being… RACEIST™? Are they implying that Asian women are bad drivers? Hey, if it’s on Yahoo Answers it must be true….

Perhaps Chua is a bad driver; recall the time she ran over her daughter Sophia’s foot, as recounted in Tiger Mother. If she is, then good — it’s humanizing. Professor Chua already has the “triple package”: brains, beauty, and bank. If she were a good driver too, then everyone would hate her.

And we know she wouldn’t want that. Amy Chua just wants to be liked. Is that so wrong?

Confessions of a Tiger Couple [New York Times]
The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America [Amazon (affiliate link)]

Earlier: Yale Law Professors Defend Themselves Against Charges Of RACEISM™
8 Superior Cultural Groups, According To 2 Yale Law Professors


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