If I may sum up her detractors: Chua went to Yale, which makes her a smart, classy asshole. She berates and punishes her children to make them perfect, which proves she's a) Asian or b) a bitch or c) both. Chua thinks her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is her arrogant-to-humble story of raising two daughters (they're happy and well-adjusted, she swears!) and the struggle to impart aspects of her cherished but very strict Chinese upbringing to them, and the lessons she learns along the way about boundaries and self-esteem. But thanks to her narcissistic drive to create excellent offspring and her devotion to the religion of perfection, it should really be called Mommie Dearest: Shanghai Surprise or at least Lowered Expectations. As Times columnist David Brooks explores, her children may be compliant, but they will never be great.
Her supporters say this.
An excerpt full of juicy Joan Crawford-approved childrearing techniques ran in the WSJ and garnered a record-breaking (as of this posting) 6,927 comments. The title (added by an editor, not Chua) is "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," and the shit began to hit the fan before you could say kung-whuuu? But seriously, everyone collectively shat themselves — she rejected her children's birthday cards because they weren't good enough? She threatened to burn her daughter's stuffed animals until she played a song on the piano correctly? All while drawing smug comparisons between her Western peers' softer tactics? Call Child Services! — and Chua hit the talk-show circuit to backpedal through the deafening roar of shit-spewage, claiming that seriously, she's not so bad — really. Like any good Hollywood ending, by the end of the memoirs, she's allegedly learned the error of her ways. Kinda.
But Chua isn't doing herself any favors by allowing this supposedly misrepresentative portrait of her child-rearing and her memoirs to appear in this way (as her daughter puts it, apparently none of us got the joke). Our glimpse tells us that her idea of forming self-esteem is yelling at her kids and denying them any social life (or even bathroom breaks at one point) if it means making them perfect little piano-playing, A-scoring Asian stereotypes. And you get the sense from some of her interviews that even if she realized how stringent her parenting was, that she's still proud of the outcome. That perhaps the end did justify the means. If you're into raising a kid with a little decency who is interesting in all their imperfections, the whole thing makes you want to never stop throwing up.
What's worse, though, is that when the coddle-your-kids movement shows up to save the day, it's a brand new and improved dose of Ipecac, because how could any kid ever be any good without constant coddling, reassurance and boosterism — the old smoke-up-the-ass approach to parenting, which happens to be equally nauseating, not to mention so damned American right now.
It's all about as appealing as a Cuddle Party, because of course, either approach fails to reach a moderate balance of discipline and affection, the middle holy grail that gives a person a sense of their own agency but a nice warm nest to jump out of to discover it. (Ah, so easy to be right from the cheap seats.)
In other words, either extreme is futile. But writing that doesn't get you 6,927 comments or a book deal. Or does it? You know where to find me, HarperCollins.
But really, I think the one thing we can learn from Chua, and that Chua can learn from Chua, is this: She claims that "the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child." But the truth is that the people we like to excoriate and shame the most, more than underperforming children, are underperforming mothers. We've never met one we couldn't turn on in a heartbeat, or at least, faster than you can say "shit-stirring memoir."