Dr. Jennifer Ho felt a little sick after reading about controversial “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua’s most recent book.
A few years ago, when the fervor and controversy and outrage over Chua’s so-called parenting memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother had just about waned, I reluctantly ordered a copy for my Kindle and sat down to read it. A student of mine was thinking about writing her senior thesis on Chinese American mother figures and thought Chua’s screed would be an interesting counter-point to other memoirs. I sped through the book in a single sitting, admittedly skimming over parts of it because, let’s just say Chua’s no Chang-rae Lee, and her prose does not sing. However, what I do recall from reading Battle Hymn was that the furor over the labeling of her book—as memoir, as parenting guide, as racist tract—was all wrong. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother should be required reading for all first year psych students and for medical students going into psychiatry because it provides a rich first-person account of narcissism disorder. It is an in-depth case study through the perspective of the patient herself of what someone who is truly suffering from narcissism looks, acts, and sounds like.
Imagine my non-surprise to learn, this past week, that Chua had published what I can only imagine should be considered part 2 of her narcissism disorder case study: The Triple Package. Like most of the semi-tech savvy people in my age range I have a Facebook account and thus saw various links to the New York Post’s early review for Triple Package. Reading it in a feverish haze (I had come down with the flu and was running a temperature of 103 degrees, which may explain what happened next) I felt myself grow nauseous upon reading that “Chua and her husband, co-author Jed Rubenfeld, gather some specious stats and anecdotal evidence to argue that some groups are just superior to others and everyone else is contributing to the downfall of America.” In fact, I may have thrown up a little in my mouth reading through that article, which seems an appropriate response to have when hearing someone make a case for ethnic/racial superiority in the 21st century.
Since there are people who have taken to twitter and other social media outlets to slam Chua, and since the New York Post review did such a good job of skewering her claims, I can only add that since I am not a first year psych student nor involved in the field of psychiatry I am not going to read Chua’s book. One could argue that it’s always good to know where the enemy stands—friends of mine watch Fox News for that very reason. However, I don’t need to read this book to know what Chua and her husband are doing: they are trying to make a lot of money. Controversy sells, and narcissists are smart people. I also don’t think Chua is the enemy. She is a misguided and sick person who is trying to make a buck, perhaps to fund her daughters’ future therapy sessions, which they undoubtedly will need growing up in a family such as theirs. I suppose we could say she is the enemy to common sense and anti-racism…except I think that’s giving her too much credit. Chua isn’t race baiting because she believes in race baiting—I think she’s doing this because she is a narcissist who wants to be in the limelight. And lets face it, academics don’t find themselves in the limelight unless they say or do dumbass things—hence narcissism case study #2: The Triple Package.
Finally, one thing that has always bugged me about Chua is her adamant avowals to being Chinese and her disavowal of being Filipino. In Battle Hymn she talks about her grandparents immigrating from China to the Philippines—both her parents were born in the Philippines, and it would seem that they are, technically speaking, Filipino. Yet Chua never claims any Filipino influence in her family—all “credit” if you will, goes to the Chinese. This strikes me as the strangest omission. It is as if Chua wants to erase all traces of Filipino cultural influence from her life. Which makes me wonder, even more, if this is all just about racial pandering—of Chua trying to cash in on the yellow peril threat that the specter of all things Chinese raise. However, regardless of whether Chua is or should be considered Chinese, Filipino, American, or all of the above, one thing is certain: we should not buy or read her book. Life is too short to spend with bad prose, and you don’t need to buy or read her book to know that her theories are crap—the debunking of the 1920s eugenics movement proved that. Instead, I’d recommend everyone go out and pick up a copy of Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel, A Tale for the Time Being—it is luminous; it is thoughtful; it is a page turner from start to finish. Ozeki is the anti-Chua, which is the highest compliment I can think to give her right now.