Skip to content

SEXIST BEATDOWN: Attack of the Tiger Ladies Edition!

So, here’s a thing you know about: SUPERIOR CHINESE TIGER MOM! She was in the Wall Street Journal, talking about how Chinese mothers were sooooo superior to Western mothers, and you should totally scream and call your kids names and chain them to the radiator until they’ve cured cancer, and she was like totally unrepentant and endorsing these messages and SHE HATES YOU. So awful, right?

Except for the fact that she didn’t choose the “Chinese Mothers are Superior” headline. And the Wall Street Journal bit was an excerpt from a book, which details how she came to lose faith in these particular methods. And — unbelievably — some of the descriptions were written to be purposefully over-the-top, as jokes.

Awwww, fuck it. Print the headlines about how “Superior Chinese Tiger Mother may scream her way to getting her own movie” anyway. Write about how she’s oppressing and victimizing her white husband, who is but a blameless victim in this scenario! (You guys, he basically doesn’t even know that he HAS children. How could he have ANY SAY OR COMPLICITY in how they are being raised? Also, he’s a dude!) Not like you’re, I dunno, feeding into anything nasty, right? It’s about time for a good old-fashioned race-and-culture-off! ASIAN PEOPLE VERSUS NON-ASIAN AMERICANS: WHO WILL WIN????? (Hint: Not people who would like to enjoy a delightful day on the Internet without encountering any “me so horny” jokes, that’s for sure.) Oh, and PS? She’s a girl. DOUBLE BONANZA!

Ugh, you guys? Some of the shit decribed in that Wall Street Journal article was just plain mean and unacceptable. We all know this. We can talk about this. But, hey, to switch up the focus for a second: You know what’s also pretty mean? Being a racist asshole in the name of good parenting. Or just generally, really. Allow Amanda Hess of TBD and I to explain!

ILLUSTRATION: Perhaps Western mothers should be stricter when teaching their children to spell racist Internet meme captions.

AMANDA: Hello!

SADY: Well, hi there! Are you ready to practice this chat for 16 hours straight, potentially while being denied bathroom breaks and/or water, and while hearing about all your various inadequacies?
AMANDA: No! I’m white.
SADY: Haha, yeah. The terrifying thing to me, about the REIGN OF THE TIGER MOTHER, is that aside from ANY damn thing about her parenting tactics, everybody just seems weirdly enthused and relieved to engage in some good old-fashioned racism.
AMANDA: Right. I mean, the phrase “Tiger Mother” alone is almost too horrifying for me to acknowledge.
SADY: Well, I mean, I think Chua herself chose that one. She did NOT choose the “Chinese Mothers Are Superior” headline, is my understanding. Which: If you’ve ever had people flip their shit on your piece in part because of a headline you didn’t write, I think you can sympathize with that.
AMANDA: Haha. Yeah! That seems like a pretty healthy liberty to be taking with a person’s work. Assertions of racial superiority.
SADY: “I AM BETTER THAN ALL OF YOU, POSSIBLY FOR RACIAL REASONS: An Article by a Woman of Color.” Like, do you not see how your writer is going to get a free ticket to an exciting Racism Hell-Ride because of that? And the thing is, I DON’T approve of all the parenting methods outlined in her piece. And the miraculous thing is, Disgrasian didn’t either. But they were somehow able to parse that stuff and criticize it without devolving into a “NO, WESTERN PARENTS ARE BETTER” argument. Which somehow is what it turned into for a lot of people? Like, articles about how her white husband was being relentlessly victimized by the Dragon Lady? Because let’s call it what it is: It’s specifically the Dragon Lady stereotype, being responded to.
AMANDA: How about this one: “While attending Harvard Law School, he fell for what at first blush appeared to be a demure, socially awkward 20-something classmate. . . . But once they married and Amy got her tiger mom claws in Jed, all of that garbling suddenly turned into growls.” This is the Washington Post.
SADY: At first you think she is the one Asian Lady Stereotype, but then she is the other Asian Lady Stereotype! [ED note: No, we normally do NOT link to Wikipedia to explain the concept of “stereotypes.” In this case, however, the writer would appear to be employing LITERALLY BOTH OF ONLY TWO NOTORIOUS-ENOUGH-TO-BE-FREAKIN-WIKIPEDIA’D STEREOTYPES????] It’s a catastrophe! A BIG CAT-astrophe. Haha, hahaha, haha, kill me.
AMANDA: But the sexism here is also grating. I just haaaaate when conversations about parenting (a possibility for any gender!) focuses exclusively on moms. The other thing that appears to be going on here is this: Chua is discussing her own racial and cultural identity in a way that she has explicitly stated is tongue and cheek. And then everyone else is taking that as an opportunity to make Asian jokes, and reinforce that whole Tiger thing, and generally vilify Chinese culture.
SADY: Exactly. She complains that people didn’t get the jokes, or the way she deliberately framed her own behavior as over-the-top. And this is another factor in my Sympathy for the Tiger Mom: I feel like anybody can relate to that, where they make a joke while also expressing an opinion people want to disagree with, so they’re like, “CLEARLY YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE THAT THING YOU SAID ABOUT MICHAEL MOORE BEING AN ANIMATRONIC YODA-LIKE PUPPET WITH A TINY JULIAN ASSANGE INSIDE WORKING THE CONTROLS,” er, something Tiger-Mom-relevant. Like, if you’re funny, but they don’t like you, suddenly jokes become invisible. And this was like the Internet’s Woodstock: A chance for racism, a chance to jump on a lady for seemin’ too full of herself (RACIALLY), and, best of all, a Bad Mommy to dislike.
AMANDA: And then, interestingly, when she appeared on the Colbert Report, she was accused of “backpedaling” for clarifying that she does not find Chinese mothers superior and that the book is supposed to be funny.
SADY: Which she’d been saying well before that appearance!
AMANDA: It just seems problematic to me that the Wall Street Journal chose an excerpt a part of her book that contains none of the nuance of the book, where she ultimately finds flaws in her own parenting style.
SADY: Yeah. I mean, to choose a really dramatic metaphor, it’s like choosing to run an excerpt of a recovery memoir, and running just a piece where the writer is talking about being completely high and how much he loved getting high, and then having someone headline it “I’M ON SO MUCH FUCKING CRACK RIGHT NOW, YOU SHOULD BE TOO.”
AMANDA: Except more racist, if possible.
SADY: Yes. Ideally, the headline should serve to excite a whole, whole lot of racists.
But can we talk, Amanda, in what will seem at first a startling change of subject? Can we talk… ABOUT ALEC BALDWIN????
AMANDA: Absolutely.
SADY: Because the thing is, the Alec Baldwin, he is a Huffington-Post-contributin’, book-about-parentin’ writing sort of guy! In addition to being a very charming actor. But also, there was that WHOLE THING where he, like, VERBALLY ABUSED AND SCREAMED AT his daughter, and it was on tape, and we all heard it, and it was not just narrated to us in a wackily over-the-top fashion?
AMANDA: Oh, God.
SADY: Okay, so like now that our whole culture has decided that calling your children “lazy” or “stupid” is terrible and awful (and I agree with that, to be honest) and the entire culture must vilify and punish and condemn parents who do so, and greet any news of their potential future success with dismay and rancor? We’re very happy that Alec Baldwin might become the next big thing on cable news. I mean, just to underline that whole “this is less about parenting than race and gender thing,” a white guy who does the EXACT SAME THING this lady is being yelled at for: Yay, him! Get that man in a position of commentator-ing authority!
AMANDA: Also? “A Promise to Ourselves” (ugh) does not appear to have an element of self-mockery. It appears instead to be about how divorce law ruins the lives of really great guys! So, there’s that.
SADY: Right. It’s really not spoken about, that in addition to people who love Jack Donaghy, or appreciate Baldwin’s skills at yelling and seeming mean and scary in “Glengarry Glen Ross” (and I would count myself in both these groups) Alec Baldwin has this whole other sector of fans. He’s a folk hero in that weird “fathers’ rights” movement, which is often predicated around this “women LIE and say we’re ABUSIVE to ROB US of our children, also they want our money” misogynist narrative. And yet, this doesn’t really have lasting consequences for him. I guarantee that people will show up, after we post this, to express disapproval with how this chat vilifies Alec Baldwin. Get a brown lady on the phone to say she was tough about her daughter’s piano practice though, and BANG! She’s basically Satan. Basically, my point is that Amy Chua should be on cable news.


  1. Lu wrote:

    “Confucious” = adjectival form of “Confucius”?

    OK, now I’ll go and read the post.

    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Permalink
  2. DP wrote:

    Frankly, I think pretty much everyone here heartily deserves each other – Chua, the media, the mommy wars people, the interblags, anon, trolls, whatever.

    Except the two girls, Sonia and Lulu.

    They are the only people I feel bad for in this.

    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink
  3. Jordan Rastrick wrote:

    Wow, I had no idea from the media shirstorm that Amy Chua a) exaggerated things for comic effect or b) ultimately critiques this parenting style in the same piece of writing.

    Thanks for once again injecting some facts and awesome into the mix.

    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink
  4. Travis wrote:

    They–the Washington Post, The New York Times, all o’ thems–really had to do some work to find the most racist angle they could, seeing as how the points Amanda and Sady bring up above are spelled out ON THE COVER OF THE BOOK!

    Are these news outlets trying to bolster sales by inciting witch hunts and creating controversy? Or are they trying to snag a piece of that lucrative racist demographic? Excuse the obvious statement, but there’s no way this is ‘misguided’–this is SUPERguided.

    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink
  5. Theodore Eddy wrote:

    Um, I’m pretty sure Colbert accusing her of “backpedaling” was itself a joke. Just like everything else that Stephen Colbert says.

    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Permalink
  6. Jenny wrote:

    Even if she was joking, her type of criticism had a bad effect on children:

    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
  7. jen wrote:

    So from this article Chua says that a lot of her friends really related to the book, maybe in a rueful ‘ain’t that the truth’ sort of way. Not saying it’s perfect but showing life for what it is – but the experiences described are immigrants’ experiences, and maybe part of the backlash is basically certain people saying ‘how dare you talk about experiences that I personally can’t relate to’

    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Permalink
  8. Casey wrote:

    Hmmm…when I first read that excerpt, I figured it was an Onion-style parody. DERP. :E

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink
  9. Em wrote:

    People didn’t get her jokes? How sad. I know I find it hilarious when an abuser exaggerates descriptions of abuse for laughs.

    Oh wait, no I don’t.

    Good beatdown on the racism and sexism, though.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 12:38 am | Permalink
  10. MamaLlama wrote:

    I don’t think there’s any way to joke lightly about Child Abuse that you admit to actually committing, and that’s essentially what she’s doing. It doesn’t matter if she twiddles her thumbs and thumps down on her book and says “But but I didn’t MEANNNN it!” If OJ Simpson released a joke book about the Nicole Simpson Murder Trials, regardless of how overhyped that whole thing was, it’d be the same thing. Yes, this whole thing is totally racist, but if you just go along with her “It was meant to be funny” excuse, you risk falling into victim blaming. How is it funny that she talks down to her children like this?

    Now, I can’t even say anymore that it’s not about the fact that she’s Asian, because apparently, that’s ALL this has become about. But in doing that, we’ve forgotten the real issue at hand, and that’s her kids being exposed to this kind of emotional abuse. I don’t really give a shit if anyone wants to call it “toughening” their skin, or try to write off her parenting skills as not a big deal, or, the most annoying, say that THEY wish they had a parent who made them practice like that so they could play in Carnegie Hall/Be a Math Whiz/All this other dumb bullshit. Half of these people just say that out of insecurity, (feeling totally inadequate or lacking in any goals or skills) or are ultimately relying and harking back on the stereotype and prejudice that Asians are amazing at everything.

    Ultimately, this ties down to fucking class, and Amy Chua is still a classist asshole.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink
  11. MamaLlama wrote:

    And for the record, the whole OJ Simpson thing and the media hype surrounding it was racist in and of itself, but regardless, even so, he was in no position to joke about it later on and try to get book sales out of it. People who will use his actions as an excuse for an entire group of people will do so regardless of whether he was innocent or not. And Amy Chua is no different.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 12:58 am | Permalink
  12. Samantha B. wrote:

    Em, I’m with you there, and I’m also wondering why the book was excerpted two weeks later in the NYT exactly as it had been in the Journal, albeit with a different headline. It seems difficult to argue that this happened without her knowledge twice. It just strikes me that she’s still promoting the logic that gets put forth in the passage, that it’s winning (selling more books) that matters no matter what the cost (diluting the intelligence and nuance of her own analysis.)

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 7:11 am | Permalink
  13. Nanasha wrote:

    My mother was severely abusive in many of similar ways as this woman was to her children. But guess what? She wasn’t Chinese or of Asian descent.

    Abuse is abuse, whether or not it is “sanctioned” by our society. To some extent, I feel that parenting is a balancing act. You have to be permissive enough to allow children to learn from their mistakes while also giving them the tools and resources to thrive. Plus, you have to give them structure and discipline that allows them to navigate the rules and structure of decent social discourse.

    And then there’s the daily thing. The fact that children don’t just grow in years, but in days. The 6 hours that the child is being bratty and fussy for seemingly no reason can be maddening. The triumphs seem to pass so quickly because the hard times make time drag so slowly.

    When I had my daughter, I decided that I would do my best to tame the anger that I have inherited from my mother. First of all, I don’t drink. My mother exhibited alcoholic behaviors and her mother was so violent when drunk that she chased her children around with knives on a regular basis. Second of all, I have to get active (walking bicycling, etc) because otherwise the anger builds in me and I want to lash out. Also, I took to singing simple songs about how much I loved her to my daughter when she was crying and making me frustrated. Even today, when she starts pushing my buttons (as children are so good at doing!) I often have to turn on some music and just start dancing to get the mad out of me. As a last resort, I often have to put her in a safe place and just separate myself from her and give myself a time out to compose myself.

    We can learn from our parents, and obviously we are not perfect, but abuse does not need to beget abuse. And as long as people make money from publishing their abuse stories as though they were somehow “forced” into abusive behavior, I say that those people need to stop being treated like they are somehow “brave”.

    People are vilifying her because she is an “example” but I am certain that there are far more cases of people acting like this and considering it “normal” just because the abuse is carried out as part of “normal” social interaction (such as rapist-behavior in dating and sexual relationships, or abusive teachers who humiliate and traumatize their students in the name of “discipline”), or even bosses/supervisors who use their power to “keep employees in line” through abusive and horrible behaviors.

    I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world where she is taught that it’s ok for people to do stuff to her body without her permission and never need her input, but I also want to give her the guidance and structure to keep her from, say, doing dangerous or harmful things to herself.

    It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it to be the best person you can be for your children and, more importantly, for yourself.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  14. SynGen wrote:

    I had (well, still have) a so-called “Tiger-Mother.” While I came into my adulthood relatively intact emotionally (my partner says I am astonishingly normal) I do still feel the aftershocks of it all. BUT — when I talk to my mother about HER childhood and how abusive HER mother was I do feel a bit grateful. I think what we need to take out of this is that every generation should learn lessons from their experiences and always try to be better.

    Also, for the record, I am in a PhD program in chemistry. My mother attributes this to the emotional floggings I had as a child. I attribute it to the desire to escape. My brother has more inertia and still lives at home under the the rule of my mother. He is severely damaged and a cautionary tale about this sort of motivation by fear.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  15. Zoe wrote:

    The scary thing is, I didn’t think Chua was /that/ far off the mark when I read the Wallstreet Journal excerpt from the book. I’m a 17 year-old (half) Asian-American girl, and my parents – my Asian mother and my European father – treated me kind of tough. They made me keep working at things I didn’t want to do or didn’t think I could do. They expected (and still expect, despite my being a 2nd semester-already-accepted-to-a-good-college-senior) me to get straight As, and were legitimately disappointed in me if I failed to deliver, etc. They called me names sometimes, but I don’t think I came out the worse for it.

    The problem I encounter reading reactions to Tiger Mother is that there’s an overwhelming failure to acknowledge not only Chua’s personal successes in raising her children, but also the validity of the method in general which, many Asian-Americans can tell you, reminds them of their parents at least in some aspects. There IS a racial divide in parenting, and no one side is doing any better, as far as I can tell. But ignoring the validity of Chua’s methods,either in her defense or in an attempt to slander her, is wrong. What I’ve seen is two camps: “Look at that woman, she’s a crazy witch!” (plus or minus some racism/sexism) and “Chill the fuck out guys, can’t you see she’s just kidding?” both of which, sadly, fail to address the fact that SHE MIGHT VERY WELL BE RIGHT ABOUT SOME OF THIS TOUGH-PARENTING STUFF. Westerners produce geniuses and screwed up kids. So do Asians. So does everyone else, I’m pretty sure. The bottom line is that these two parenting methods, in their most stereotyped and generalize-able forms, are going at parenting in two very different ways, and that’s all there is to it. Neither method is superior, but NEITHER IS WRONG is the corollary to that statement, which, too often, is being buried underneath the other attacks/defenses of this book.

    Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  16. Sky wrote:

    I nearly killed myself, several times, because of this kind of abusive parenting style. I’m in therapy because of it. I’m not speaking to my father (the person who was constantly abusing me for not being “good enough”) because of it.

    I’m not sure how you can in good conscience turn that abuse into a joke when you were the one perpetuating it.

    Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  17. Amelia the Lurker wrote:

    For once I disagree with Sady and Amanda.

    Her parenting IS abuse, and while it’s unfortunate that people have been all racist about it, she IS the one who has presented it as being a Chinese-vs-American thing.

    You are flat-out incorrect when you state that she “lost faith” in her methods. That’s a line she has been repeating in a blatant attempt to have her cake and eat it too—to claim her methods produced successful children, while deflecting criticism by telling people not to “read it straight”? She acknowledges she took it a “little too far”, but the truth is she took it WAY too far.

    Besides, even if it were a “joke,” how the hell can you make light of the fact that you drove your children to cut off their hair and chew on the piano?

    The fact that Amanda (who is normally on target) was horrified by the “Tiger Mother” eponym shows just how little she did her research—as Sady (somewhat reluctantly) pointed out, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is the NAME OF HER DAMN BOOK. SHE CHOSE TO FRAME IT THAT WAY. I don’t think the publisher bullied Amy Chua into using that name, either. Amy Chua is a bully herself.

    Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  18. minna wrote:

    The eldest daughter has a piece in the NY Post. I’m really uncomfortable with how ready people are to call her daughters victims without referencing their opinions or feelings on the matter.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  19. aravind wrote:

    Ok, I absolutely agree with you guys (Sady and Amanda) that a lot of the coverage of this book plays into obnoxious anti-Asian stereotyping. That’s reprehensible.

    That said, Chua has a lot of kyriarchic skeletons in her closet. For instance, I’m trying to go through one of her earlier books (World on Fire) page-by-page to point out the shoddy research, use of stock stereotypes, and general classism. (More here). The convoluted point I’m trying to make is that Chua’s being victimized by the system, yes, but she’s also heavily contributing to it.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  20. Amelia the Lurker wrote:

    Aravind is spot on. To me, the way Chua raised her children shows that she values prestige above all, and is generally very classist. Also, like a conservative subset of bourgeois professionals, she doesn’t seem to appreciate the arts for their own sake—technical mastery of a prestigious instrument was in, theatre was absolutely OUT (participation in school plays was forbidden, and Drama was one of the only classes they were allowed to get a sub-A grade in).

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  21. Jinian wrote:

    Lu @ 1, marry me? In a totally non-heteronormative or -kyriarchal way, of course.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  22. verucaamish wrote:

    I can understand that you are looking at the maisntream media’s sexist response to Amy Chua but she perpetuates every bit of kyriarchy and racism that’s heaped upon her. Every interview she gives, she reinforces the “this is how Chinese parenting is” as if it’s some monolithic thing. She also out and out LIES when she says her family cam from nothing. According to her OWN BOOK Word on Fire, her ethnic Chinese family gained higher degrees and a great deal of wealth in the Philippines. It’s plays into the classist “if you weren’t lazy and raised your child like me, they’d be genuises.” Finally, I am really dismayed you decided to make invisible the legitmiate criticism from API bloggers about the WSJ article and the book itself. Way to make invisible the voices of APIs.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 2:02 am | Permalink