The “Tiger Mom” Revisited

I’ve written before about Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua and her odious 2011 book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the thesis of which is that you should punish, humiliate, and otherwise coerce your kids into being high achievers. As I wrote at the time it was published:

  • A few weeks ago [Chua] had a firestorm of publicity around her book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she boasts of her authoritarian and coercive parenting methods, which include not only insisting that her daughters follow a narrow course of “success-oriented” classes and activities, but punishing them harshly – via withholding, threats and insults – when they don’t toe the line or achieve top-level success. (For instance, she deprives them of bathroom breaks, threatens to burn their toys, and calls them “garbage.”) She got a major boost when The Wall Street Journal featured her in an admiring article.

What Chua considered her branded form of tough-love parenting, however, many considered nothing more than child abuse. There was a public outcry; and so, in a later interview with The New York Times, she hypocritically walked back many of her key points. Also from my post:

  • [Chua] explained that her household really isn’t abusive, in part because “I think I pulled back at the right time,” and in part because her husband provides a compassionate counterbalance to her authoritarian approach. (So, add hypocrisy to the cynicism.) And with no apparent irony or self-awareness, she also complained about being misunderstood – because authoritarians always crave the understanding and tolerance they would deny others.

In a follow-up post, I reported on a study that found that the whole premise of a “tiger mom” is invalid, and racist to boot. No matter: damage done. Despite its immoral premise and cynical dishonesty, Chua’s book became a best seller.

Now, it turns out that Chua’s premise was a lie on an even deeper level. Last July, Chua notoriously wrote a Wall Street Journal oped in support of accused sexual-assaulter Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. And earlier this month, in what reeks of a quid pro quo, Kavanaugh conferred a coveted Supreme Court clerkship on Chua’s daughter Sophia. I have no reason to doubt that Sophia is a smart person and hard worker. But I also have no reason to doubt that countless other law students, equally or even more smart and hard working, won’t get offered such a plum opportunity simply because they lack her familial advantages.

So apparently, in Amy Chua’s world, success is less about hard work and more about being wealthy and having helpful connections. (And not being too particular about who those connections are with.) Chua, a Yale Law School professor, apparently also advised female law students who were considering clerking for Kavanaugh to dress “like models,” an act many consider a form of “grooming” that would make the young women vulnerable to potential sexual abuse. And as a final distasteful note, Chua’s husband Jed Rubenfeld–also a Yale Law professor, and the nicer half of the marriage, remember?–is being investigated by Yale Law School for inappropriate comments to female students.

Punishment and coercion are perfectionist behaviors, so this is your periodic reminder that perfectionism never works, and that all perfectionist narratives are lies. Unfortunately, the media loves those narratives for their simplicity and drama; and conservatives and the conservative media, in particular, love narratives of harshness, punishment, and retribution–so long as it’s others, and not they or their loved ones, who happen to be the target.

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