Keep on Wondering...

What are the connections between social and historical forces and the representations we see?
Why is yellowface still acceptable? When and how did yellowface turn into whitewashing?
How do these representations create and/or perpetuate stereotypes that are present in our world? What is the impact?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Amy Chua Reconsidered

After all that venting about Amy Chua's crazy article "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," I read her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Yes, I read it. I read it and I enjoyed it, laughing at the tongue-in-cheek-ness of some of the book and frowning at the bits that still struck me as... questionable. 

The article that preceded the release of the book wasn't written by her - it was compiled by some unknown editor at the Wall Street Journal. The article was deliberately cut-and-pasted into the article that we're all familiar with and, honestly, detest. Chua didn't even choose the snarky, arrogant title of the article (Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior). However, it's very interesting to see that in the above interview, Chua states that "[She doesn't] think Chinese mothers are superior" when the caption on the cover of her memoir states "This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones." Just that sentence alone is enough to make one wonder - but wait, there's more! The cover caption continues with "But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old." Doesn't Chua now sound... less arrogant? It's much better! Chua accepts her defeat! 
This book isn't a parenting manual - it's a memoir that just so happens to be written by a mother who is Chinese. She's definitely not as crazy dictator as the article made her sound (thank goodness) and she comes across as a strict, but not unloving mother. Chua definitely still sounds like an uppity, holier-than-thou person, but she still retains enough humility that perhaps she was a bit too extreme with her parenting, and she does express some regret in her past decisions. It's a journey.

There are still things, however, that I disagree with. Like when she says that playing drums will lead to drugs. Uh, no. There's a part in the book where Chua talks about her parents and their stories, and she describes her grandmother as a (you'll get a kick out of this) a Dragon Lady. When I first read that, I was a wee bit shocked. I'd always been under the impression that the term "Dragon Lady" was kinda derogatory, belonging in the same category as the "Lotus Flower" or "Fu Manchu" stereotype. But here's Chua, using it to describe her own grandmother! I may be reading a little too much into it, and Chua's grandma may have been born in the year of the Dragon, but who knows? All I know is that she's applying cultural stereotypes to her own grandmother, and showing that it's okay to embrace and essentially perpetuate these stereotypes! Then there's this idea of training and pushing her daughters to just get the A. Get the A and everything will be fine. Get a B and you'll work your butt off until you get that A. GET THE A! I'm a little biased, having gone to schools that value learning for the sake of learning as opposed to learning to get the grade. Maybe that's why the emphasis on "getting the A" was so infuriating and confusing to me. Either way, it's still bothersome - how on earth are her children going to learn from their mistakes if they never make mistakes? 

She does, however, keep on categorizing herself as the "Chinese Mother" and makes it seem like there is only one kind of "Chinese Mother," which only furthers the stereotype surrounding an ethnicity-based parenting style. And, as we all know, stereotypes can be unfairly applied to anyone who seems to fit the bill - in this case, be Chinese. Only once in the book does she acknowledge that there are many different types of parenting, Chinese or otherwise. Unfortunately, she states it only once, in one smarmy paragraph in the very first chapter of the book. Chua highlights the diversity of Western parents and leaves them under the umbrella label of "Western parents" but categorizes the über-strict parenting style as Chinese, even going as far as to categorize an anecdotal white mother as a Chinese mother. So... basically... you are a Chinese mother (regardless of ethnic background) if you are as strict as Chua is. Not an Asian mother. A Chinese mother. To be a "Western" mother is to be somewhat free in your label, while it seems like there is one way and no other way to be a Chinese mother... Right? What's up with that? 

Chua still says that in order to be Chinese (or a Chinese mother, for that matter), one must raise one's children exactly as she did. I still have a problem with this. It's like saying that I'm not Chinese or my mom isn't Chinese because I wasn't forced to play violin or piano or get A's in every single class except gym and drama. It's just a wee bit, you know, wrong. 

In the end though, Chua has every right to raise her children as she wishes, and it's not really our place to make a pariah out of her for doing so. What's really annoying is the fact that she labels this the "Chinese" way. Of course, she hides behind this idea of "the immigrant thing." Well... Chua's not an immigrant. Her parents were. So... was adopting their strict parenting style necessary? Was it because she just didn't know any other way of raising children, and she couldn't be bothered to read up on some child psychology? It seems she did it because she was worried about future generations of children and she wanted filial piety. It's odd. 
Fun Fact: Chua's book (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) is currently being sold in China under the title "US Mom." 
Long story short: Amy Chua isn't as bad as the article made her out to be. 

http://news.yahoo.com/video/us-15749625/husband-of-tiger-mom-speaks-out-24025828
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9hTvzbo8AE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nx8iXyKe4-Q

2 comments:

  1. Why is the art of music required to endure the ill-informed antics of such inartistic imbeciles as Amy Chua? Her lust for fame as an old-fashioned stage mother of either a famous violinist (yet another mechanical Sarah Chang?) or a famous pianist (yet another mechanical Lang Lang?) shines through what she perceives as devotion to the cultivation of the cultural sensitivities of her two unfortunate daughters.

    Daughter Lulu at age 7 is unable to play compound rhythms from Jacques Ibert with both hands coordinated? Leonard Bernstein couldn’t conduct this at age 50! And he isn’t the only musician of achievement with this-or-that shortcoming. We all have our closets with doors that are not always fully opened.

    And why all this Chinese obsession unthinkingly dumped on violin and piano? What do the parents with such insistence know of violin and piano repertoire? Further, what do they know of the great body of literature for flute? For French horn? For organ? For trumpet? Usually, nothing!

    For pressure-driven (not professionally-driven!) parents like Amy Chua their children, with few exceptions, will remain little more than mechanical sidebars to the core of classical music as it’s practiced by musicians with a humanistic foundation.

    Professor Chua better be socking away a hefty psychoreserve fund in preparation for the care and feeding of her two little lambs once it becomes clear to them both just how empty and ill-defined with pseudo-thorough grounding their emphasis has been on so-called achievement.

    Read more about this widespread, continuing problem in Forbidden Childhood (N.Y., 1957) by Ruth Slenczynska.
    ______________________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Professor Chua is a woefully ill-informed parent, one ignorant of just what is happening in some parts of education in America. Fully confident in her presumed success as a writer with an editorial staff at Penguin shadow boxing for her and unapologetically wearing her signature plastic smile for public appearances, the Lawyer Chua is trying to persuade and convince; on both counts controversially, but with enough negative reactions to cause her subsequently to attempt a dilution of the intensity in her initial self-congratulatory tirade by latterly asserting that her writing is merely one person’s experiences of some trying times in motherhood. To gain working points among the Old-Boy network, the prime lubricant of Yale, Professor Chua initially claimed that she is a Tiger Mom as Chinese maternal type; Fierce! When that showpiece veneer didn’t sit well with mothers who are the real thing, i.e., mothers from China, this faux cat altered the validity of her claim to violence by stating that she is a Tiger Mom because she was born in 1962, a Year of the Tiger. That a tenured Professor of Yale can – must? – openly justify her self-classification with superstitious underpinning should provide anyone what is needed to draw a conclusion about the level of intellect afoot in Yale Law School. Professor? Indeed!

    Any of Chua’s public statements of the purposes of her work evolve to fit the tenor of the evolving criticisms directed at it. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/amy-chua-tiger-mom-book-one-year-later_n_1197066.html It has passed, in her own words, from (1) practical handbook for parenting to (2) tongue-in-cheek (whatever that’s supposed to mean), to (3) memoir, (4) satire, (5) parody, (6) “a coming of age book for parents” (7) “the book is about a journey”; and who knows what else as she makes the rounds of the book circuit trying to snare yet more unsuspecting purchasers into her net. That she can, without blushing, class a single work with such a range causes me to wonder what kind of grade she got at Harvard for her command of the English language. She’s Trollope (the author), Pope (the author), The Wicked Witch in Hansel und Gretel and Gullible’s Travels all penned together into one oversized Pamper. Anyone who can’t read the monetary cynicism driving the kaleidoscope of this whole Tiger Mom scam and its spurious, unproven claimed insights into parenting, with variant latter-day reflections by the author herself, deserves to have paid full retail price for this book.

    “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/
    Stamp collecting, fishing, lazing about on a summer day, science club, Brownie Scouting, baseball, birthday parties, church annual picnic, kite flying, visiting relatives, kissing, jumping rope, student council, insect classification . . . Away with this woman! “Fun” must be one of the more overused, misunderstood words in the American lexicon. Chinese parent = The Model Minority? In China?

    “I’m happy to be the one hated.” http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/

    “If I could push a magic button and choose either happiness or success for my children, I’d choose happiness in a second. http://amychua.com/

    That’s it perfectly stated in Tigerese: Either / Or; not both. Amy Chua is a chameleonic con artist. PT. Barnum certainly was right, one “. . . born every minute!”
    ______________________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

    ReplyDelete