Monday, January 17, 2011

Thumbs up to the writer of "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior"

512px-Thumbs_up_by_Wakalani I read the article, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,  and thought to myself, wow, I’m half Chinese and even I don’t aspire to become half the mother the author, Amy Chua, describes herself to be. The article hit many, many nerves and the next thing you know, there are almost  7,000 comments and probably just as many rebuttals out there via blog posts and articles.

The people were in an uproar about the regimented life of Chua’s daughter’s and Chua’s assertions that kids with strict Chinese mothers (or anyone who subscribes to a similar philosophy) are far more successful when compared to that of the more permissive Western parents, where kids’ happiness are valued above success (naturally, her view of “success” and that of the Western parents are also separated by a chasm). She doesn’t just claim her methods superior, she unabashedly points out the inferiority of parenting models upheld in the West.

I raised my eyebrows quite a few times as I was reading what she put her girls through (no playdates, sleepovers, TV, computers, grades less than A, etc.), and while I was appalled for the most part, after reading the byline of the article, it made sense to me. No, not her methods, but why this article was on the Wall Street Journal in the first place. It says, “... This essay is excerpted from "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, to be published Tuesday...”

Later, I heard an interview with her on NPR and the interviewer explained that even though the book begins with her life with the girls as depicted in the excerpt, it does take on a different turn when she comes to a realization in the end. Now, of course they didn’t divulge completely what it was that she realized (after all, they’re hoping we’ll find out by reading the book) but we can assume that the excerpt was picked because it was the most controversial part of the memoir. It’s the kind of prose that gets under people’s skin, so naturally it began to spread like wildfire – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. - and along with it, the general “can you believe this woman?” opinion.

At first I thought, man, thank goodness my mother’s Indian. Plus, even though my dad’s Chinese, I’m just not Chinese enough to do this to my own kids, but I also reserved judgment on this woman because I know what being the product of a culture does. Sometimes you tend to perpetuate beliefs and philosophies that you yourself have witnessed or experienced. It’s the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. I do feel bad for her daughters, but parenting styles are like the snowflake - no one is exactly alike so I really don’t know if what I plan to do with my own children someday will be better or worse for them compared to the choices she made as a parent herself.

However, even though I can’t get behind her methods, I had to give it to her (or her PR manager) that this was a brilliant move. Bad publicity is still publicity. She may be vilified by fellow parents, academicians (she herself is a Yale professor), experts and the media, but as the NPR interviewer said, people are reading and talking about this book in every corner of the country. Sounds like a damn good PR plan to me.

Amy Chua’s on NPR, for crying out loud! And this was all because she chose the part of her memoir that she knew would piss the biggest part of the population - both the Western parents and Chinese mothers who do not share her perspective and who are upset that she has upheld the stereotype that they have worked hard to overcome themselves. As a result, people buy her memoir perhaps in search of her redeeming qualities, a happy ending or just to find further evidence to demonize her. And guess who wins in the end? 

She may have to deal with the vitriol that the excerpt left in its wake but she still had her five minutes of fame. The backlash is just a small price to pay, and she can afford it, with all the money in her pocket from the sale of her book. Her parenting skills may leave much to be desired, but her shrewd business mind? Now that I can get behind.


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What did you think about the article when you read it? Are you a Western parent? Do you think her memoir will take a drastic turn at the end that would help her realize her “errors”? Are you planning on reading it? If so, will you tell me how it ends?


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