Tiger mother beatdown: child-free auntie queersplains it all

I’ve followed with only an exhausted disinterest the “controversy” over Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Motherover the past few weeks.  Having been scolded by readers for daring to express opinions on this blog from my perspective as an American women’s historian about modern discourses on motherhood without revealing myself either as a mother or as a non-mother has tried my patience in the past, and the whole fracas over Chua’s book (which was really about her article in the Wall Street Journal, which was clearly calculated to raise people’s blood pressure and get hits to the website) just seemed so calculated to get people–especially XX-chromosome people–whipped up into a lather as they performed their motherhood superior dances.

Fortunately, Tenured Radical breaks it down and explains it all in two posts, the first about the fact that “Middle Class Child Abuse is Not an Asian Thing,” and the second in which she writes about “How Amy Chua Made Me Think About Feminism” after actually reading Chua’s book!  Here’s an excerpt from the second post:

I can also now answer question The Los Angeles Times asked today: “What’s Behind Our Obsessive Amy Chua Disorder?”  The answer, I think, is that mothering is more or less a cursed profession that is analogous to being a professional homosexual, which is what I do when I am not being a tenured college professor.  As with mothers mothers, people always feel like they must have — nay have a right to have — opinions about homosexuals, regardless of how silly or unwelcome those opinions are.  The less people know about real homosexuals, the more they feel like they have to have an opinion about us. . . .

.        .        .       .        .        .      .        .        .      

Similarly, from reading Chua and reading about her, I have discovered that there is really a struggle over what constitutes good motherhood which is not likely to make any difference to anyone.  I’m not involved in the Mommy Wars:  in fact, as I am not a Mommy, I have only heard rumors of them, not experienced them first hand.  As I understand it, they revolve around:

  • Men who insist on mansplainin’ about what constitutes good mothering;
  • Women lecturing other women about what constitutes good mothering;
  • Women’s ambivalence about the act of mothering, expressed as hostility towards other mothers;
  • Why and when we decided that men ought to be heaped with praise for any or all acts that are similar to mothering.

By the way, don’t miss the comment from “Adjunct Papa,” who wants TR to know how really, really difficult it is to be a daddy, and how he really doesn’t want cookies and cocoa and snuggles and slankets for actually caring for his own children.  Really.  Even though TR carefully explained that she wasn’t writing about daddies wanting extra credit, when she clearly asked “why and when we [as a culture] decided that men ought to be heaped with praise for any or all acts that are similar to mothering.”  (Sniff!)

I will tell you this about my personal life, friends:  I am not now, nor have I ever been a father.

0 thoughts on “Tiger mother beatdown: child-free auntie queersplains it all

  1. Bingo, Squadrato. There is no “right” choice, which I think is in part why these $hitstorms about motherhood are so vicious between women. We all want to reassure ourselves that we’ve made the one *right* decision that should insulate us from all criticism, and so we pile on others because we’re fearful that we’ll be at the bottom of the next pile-on.

    It’s like I tell my students: be gay, straight, or bi; be a mother, or don’t have children; work or don’t work for pay; whatever you do, someone will criticize you anyway, so you might as well be happy in your choices.


  2. I think mummy-wars are so vicious because there is another human-being (the child) at stake in our choices. So, most mothers are immensely invested in doing the ‘right-thing’ or at least justifying parenting decisions, because we care about our children and their futures. So, while we can take criticism about fucking up our own lives with a pinch of salt (hey, I’m happy, so I don’t give a fuck what you think about my sexuality/job/levels of personal cleanliness), mummy wars work because parents are concerned about how their choices affect their children- it targets a pre-existing anxiety. Ironically, this concern exists because there is no ‘right’ way of doing things. You have horrible adults from nice homes and wonderful people with really awful families- and it becomes difficult to figure what will produce successful, but also happy, healthy adults.


  3. I’m not sure that the mommy/mummy wars are “all about the children,” Feminist Avatar. The solipsistic nature of most of the comments I see indicate that it’s all about the mothers, not about the children. But that’s understandable, given the criticism & judgment that all women face (and perhaps mothers even moreso).

    Children are rhetorical bludgeons in these discussions, not actual human beings with different personalities, different needs, and/or different interests.


  4. Oh, I agree that the discourse is all about the mothers- and never about the children. It is the mother’s behaviour- her parenting- that will result in the outcome (the successful or otherwise child) and the child is always passive in the process. I just meant that the reason women are so invested in these discussions is because of their investment in their children.


  5. This classification forgets the children who were traumatized and who know from their own experience how much damage such horrible and abusive parenting practices do to growing people.

    My outrage with Chua’s article comes from the fact that similar things were inflicted on me in childhood and the article brought that trauma back. I’m in therapy right now for what was done to me. So no, children are not always just rhetorical devices in such discussions. Children have a tendency to grow up. Often, we even learn to voice our anger over what was done to us.


  6. I promised myself I wouldn’t comment on the whole Amy Chua thing except to echo Comrade Physioprof’s comment about her promotional skills over at TR’s. She has a publicity machine that makes Madonna and Lady GaGa look like amateurs.


  7. TR’s posts were brilliant. When I teach the Welfare Rights Movement and discuss poor women’s arguments that mothering is a form of labor (that society should value and pay for), even my most liberal students absolutely, completely don’t get it. For them mothering is “natural.” But of course it is labor and race and class has much to do with how it is valued. Poor women need to get a job and leave their kids at low-quality day cares. Middle/Upper-class women need to stay at home and nurture; how dare they even contemplate day care! One of the many problems with the false controversy over Chua’s book, is that it eclipses larger discussions of mothering and labor such as this. There are bigger problems than piano lessons.


  8. “When I teach the Welfare Rights Movement and discuss poor women’s arguments that mothering is a form of labor (that society should value and pay for)”

    -If society starts paying for it, that same society will soon arrive at a conclusion that it has the right to force women into such an important and well-remunerated activity.

    Also, is anybody going to pay me for my personal choice not to have children? It reduces my carbon footprint and helps save the world from overpopulation.


  9. I’ve obviously never been a mother, but I have been a child and brother of a sister. Based on those experiences, I have arrived at the following two-part theory of parenting: (a) So long as you provide a materially and educationally secure environment, the best thinge you can do is be loving and encouraging and stay the fucke out of the way of your kiddes. (b) Complicated systems of intrusive parenting have a lot more down-side potential than up-side.


  10. Actually what the activists were calling for was a guaranteed national income that would apply to all Americans, mothers and non-mothers alike. But to the larger issue, I choose not to smoke or otherwise lead an unhealthy lifestyle, but I support the Medicaid program (which I believe Arizona is considering eliminating). And welfare (which has been eliminated because of the vilification of poor women) could never be described as “well-remunerated.”


  11. The one key difference between attitudes to mothers/gays/women, is that everyone had a mother. And people feel their own experience of being raised (by someone) gives them a right to critique other people’s parenting.

    Since the second world war, when (I think) the first mainstream parenting books were produced (Dr Spock?) people feel that there is an accepted view of “good parenting” (which has evolved over the decades).

    What’s the Tiger Mother view of spanking?


  12. “Women’s ambivalence about the act of mothering, expressed as hostility towards other mothers. .. ”

    While I agree with TR that ambivalence about mothering can manifest itself as hostility towards other mothers, it often manifests itself more simply as ambivalence. Ambivalence when unexpressed or turned into shame also morphs into downward spiraling self-esteem about one’s inability to be a ‘good mother’ who doesn’t feel ambivalently about mothering. Thank gawd for the internets. All this mommy wars talk (not here, just in the media) might lead one to believe that the internet mostly fosters “mompetitions”, but this isn’t true – it also creates spaces where women can talk about being ambivalent mothers, angry mothers, scared mothers, tired mothers, clueless mothers, even bad mothers (herbadmother.com).

    Did you hear about the study in the UK that showed how often mothers lie about their parenting to other mothers? I’m sorry I can’t find the link, but I heard a snippet on the radio. Apparently, they lie a LOT, because they’re ashamed. The internet is great because it’s anonymous – you’re not talking to your neighbor, so sometimes you can be honest.

    Advice to girls: if you *do* decide to have children, make sure you do it with a feminist. A *real* feminist, not one those “I pay lip service to feminist but secretly I wish my wife would make my damn dinner already” types.


  13. “Mompetitions.” Ha! Good word.

    Clarissa, the conversation here started out with a discussion of the discourse about motherhood, which is different from the lived reality of children’s lives (as the study Perpetua mentions demonstrates.)

    I don’t think we can ever really know what goes on in people’s family lives, even when they write books purporting to tell us about them. They’re portraying only a highly selective (even if unflattering) view of what may have happened. The most important judges of Chua’s and her husband’s parenting are their own children, and even then, different children often come to different conclusions even though they were raised in the same home.


  14. There is a usually pretty funny blog (all Xtra-Normal videos) called Mompetition.

    @widgeon “When I teach the Welfare Rights Movement and discuss poor women’s arguments that mothering is a form of labor (that society should value and pay for)”

    One of the things that distresses is me is the way people refer to full-time parenting (“being a stay-at-home-mom”) as a “job.” Do you talk about that / have a take on it? It is profoundly anti-feminist everywhere I’ve seen it, because it is coupled with “my husband works all day and it’s my job to take care of the children and the house so he can relax when he gets home and do whatever he wants. Etc., etc..”

    It is very nice to parent with a feminist.


  15. Funny how many people these days are eager to call someone’s work a “job,” so long as it’s entirely volunteer labor. Heaven forbid someone should be paid to do a job! (Or even expect a husband to pay into his SAHM wife’s Social Security, which seems like a reasonable thing to me.) At least, that’s my sense of the usage that wini notes above.

    How far we’ve come from the days of Welfare Rights.


  16. I completely agree that the “stay-at-home Mom having a full-time job” discourse is commonly used by anti-feminists to justify traditional gender roles. What poor women talked about was how surviving in poverty was a job–dealing with the public housing authorities, health clinics, school system, welfare offices etc. to keep them and their kids safe and basic needs met. This was an argument against the “welfare queen” stereotype. And there are fabulous historians who write about this: Annelise Orleck, Lisa Levenstein, Rhonda Williams, Premilla Nadasen, to name just a few. I’m sounding like an unreconstructed Marxist, but the Mommywars are so class-specific and there is so much important stuff silenced when this takes up all the space.


  17. There also is parenting; it doesn’t have to be mothering or fathering. While each parent, true for gay parents as well, has special contribution. My way was to give my kids as much freedom as I could and intervene only when I couldn’t avoid it. In my book what I read about Chua is abuse. I wouldn’t behave this way with a pat.

    Who the hell decided that kids have to play the piano? You are are suppose to be a role model and not a model to ape.


  18. koshem Bos: did you mean “I wouldn’t behave this way with a CAT?” (Thank goodness, because who wants to listen to a cat practice the piano 4 hours a day?)

    widgeon wrote, “I’m sounding like an unreconstructed Marxist. . . “ Join the club! Let’s make Marxism safe again, at least for historians. Scientists can say they’re Darwinian although of course other work has refined the theory of evolution to improve on Darwin’s work.


  19. Well I’ve got strong feelings on stay-at-home mothers that are actually stronger than my “tiger mother” feelings, despite being raised by a woman who was both. (For what it’s worth, my opinion on tiger mothering is somewhat like Clarissa’s in that it’s guaranteed a lifetime of therapy. And though I won’t presume to know what Chua’s daughters think or feel, I also am not convinced by either their or other assertions that they’re lovely children. “Tiger mothers” train their children to be lovely in public.)

    But here’s my take on “staying at home being a job.” I think it is a job. I think it’s a 24-7 job. But because it’s a job for which women do not get paid, I’m pretty against women staying at home. If it weren’t a job that warranted compensation, nannies, au pairs, and the like wouldn’t be paid either.


  20. longtime historiann fan here, weighing in. Squadroto nailed it.

    There is no choice for women that is not cursed in some fashion. The childless fret, the mother of the only child frets, and even the mother who goes on to have more children frets. As the mother of an only adult child, I warn the young fretters…it matters not what you choose, there will be fretting and second-guessing.

    Don’t even get me started on the stay at home question.

    I have heard of this Tiger mothering controversy, without having read up on it extensively, and altho hers was not my style, guess what? I would bet that it’s the same trap. No matter what style the mother chooses….she loses. She is too monstrous or too coddling or too fill-in-the-blank.

    My ex decided to be a distant “benevolent” uncle to our son, instead of a father…and altho he forfeited head of household to me, he still thinks he has some right or duty to weigh in on what I have done or not. I would say my son absorbed some of the disrespectful attitude from his father and society at large, and altho we’re close, and altho he and his friends obviously regard me as a rock, I’m at a loss on how to counter the society at large they embody as a norm.


  21. The link to mothers who lie about their parenting style is here- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12192050

    On the history of parenting manuals- there have been advice books on parenting from at least the 17thC. John Locke’s ‘some thoughts concerning education’ is perhaps one that springs immediately to mind- but I can think of some earlier ones than that too. And, they are massively popular in the 18thC- incidentally the period where the ‘cult of domesticity’ really comes into its own in Britain and France. And, the work on parents of the 18thC and onwards shows that they also engaged in serious conversations about ‘best parenting’ and criticising people who didn’t conform. So, this is not a new problem…


  22. “her article in the Wall Street Journal, which was clearly calculated to raise people’s blood pressure and get hits to the website”

    This is the truest thing that’s been said about this whole “controversy”. Get the moms at each others’ throats, throw in some non-moms for good measure, it’s always good for an entertaining cage fight. The only way to win is to not play.


  23. Oh, and the whine about “the children!!! think of the children!!” is always good for getting convicted pedophiles locked up indefinitely, even though they’ve finished their sentences, but is never good for things like raising the age of enlistment in the military to 21 or 25 or fully funding public schools or school lunches or school breakfasts or AFDC. I suggest caution in using the “it’s all about the children” meme. Because, like so many other things, it obviously isn’t.


  24. Amy’s marketing tactic is incredible and in a very short time she can call herself not only a strict mother but also a rich mother. The only problem is that the approach she promotes in her book can damage the reputation of the Chinese parents who don’t bring their children up in this way.


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