Friday, 14 January 2011

depends how you measure success

random lurker, a commenter here, popped over to my blog a couple of days ago to ask me what i thought about this piece in the wall street jounal about chinese mothers. it's written by a chinese mother, one amy chua who is a professor at harvard and has raised 3 daughters.

dr chua (i'm assuming the phd, given she's a professor) basically compares chinese parenting to western parenting. though she does make the effort at the beginning to say that she is using these terms loosely & that she acknowledges that many in both groups don't fit the stereotype, and what she labels as "chinese" parenting is practiced by people of many cultures & countries.

she then goes on to stereotype these parenting styles throughout the article, and her basic premise is that western parents are soft, chinese parents are tough but better because they expect & demand more of their kids. what she calls chinese parenting is really an autocratic & dictatorial style of family management, where failure is punished, success is rewarded, and giving up (for the child) is not an option. these parents are direct in their criticism of their children, because children can handle it, because it's better for the children, and because this motivates children to behave and achieve in ways that won't be criticised. in all, she believes this style of parenting is better because chinese children are more successful.

of course, feel free to read the full article for yourself, and let me know if i've missed out anything or if i've unfairly mischaracterised what she has tried to say.

as to my reaction, well, where to start. my own parenting style is much more "western" ie more relaxed than the dictatorial model which dr chua describes. not surprising since i've grown up in the west and am basically a westerner with an eastern ethnicity. however, when she goes through her experiences as a parent, they are quite familiar to me.

but i hate her labels so am not going to use them henceforth. i'm trying to think of terms that are less loaded and judgemental, but i'm struggling. so i'll go with autocratic and relaxed.

my gut reaction as i read through the piece was one of disgust. i tried to think about my own internal bias as i read, i looked at my reactions from all angles to see whether there were elements of racism, of a blinkered world-view that i was projecting on to the situation. was i simply being intolerant? those are difficult questions and i'm not sure i know the exact answer.

the basic problem for me is that the autocratic style she described didn't seem to allow enough respect of the children: respect of their wishes, their preferences, and sometimes of their essential humanity. she speaks of achievement, but it seemed to me that this achievement came at too high a cost. on the other hand, we haven't the voices of the children in this piece. we don't know how they feel about their structured lives, and maybe they're actually very happy. maybe the positive benefits of their achievements make them feel good about themselves and the lives they lead. even so, i don't think i could do.

on the other hand, i don't think i'm a completely relaxed parent either. i do expect my children to do well, i expect them to try hard. but i try not to criticise them for their failures, unless i believe that they really haven't put the effort in. in other words, the message i give them is "as long as i know you've worked hard and tried your best, i don't really care what result you achieve. i just want to know that you really, sincerely tried". i've also set more concrete expectations, but unlike dr chua, i'm not prepared to put the details of my children's lives into the public sphere and open them up for scrutiny, so you'll just have to guess at those.

i'm relaxed in that i've let them make their own choices about sport and music. i've let them make choices about the school they attend. i certainly haven't and don't intend to direct them into any area of study, though i've made a couple of suggestions. some of these suggestions have been ignored & that doesn't bother me at all.

my definitions of success tend to be quite different to dr chua's. i'll never judge my children's success by what they own, how high they reach in their career or such things. i want to know that they're happy with what they're doing and i want to know that they spend some of their time in serving the community they live in. i want them to have enough of a social conscience that it translates into action. but even with that, i'm not prepared to dictate it or criticise them for failing to do so. i'll continue to encourage them in that direction, but in the end it's up to them. even community service often depends on privilege - on having the time and money available to put towards those causes.

so. i can't say that i'm particularly impressed with the parenting style espoused by dr chua. i'm not impressed with the self-righteous tone of the article, nor with the stereotypes it portrays and buys into. it completely rubs me the wrong way, and some of that may be because i look at it with western eyes.

here's another review of the piece at racialicious, and they don't like it either.


Ally said...

I really like this response, published at Jezebel.

Acid Queen said...

As a feminist I am a firm believer in not criticising women for the choices they make. So I say to Dr Chua, good for you! You're a kick-arse Harvard professor raising successful and healthy girls. We need more people like you.

stargazer said...

thanx ally, that was a really good piece of writing. i think i could have said a lot more, but i'm wary of sharing personal experiences that involve other members of my family.

one thing to note is that both the writers at jezebel & racialicious (and myself) are approaching this from a western perspective. i'm not saying that's a negative thing in any way. but the way dr chua has framed this, with western parenting being presented as less successful than chinese parenting, it's almost guaranteed to elicit a defensive response.

i think that's a pity, because i think it could have been so much more useful if dr chua had said: this is my approach to parenting, it appears to have worked for me, and it may be that a more directive and structured approach to parenting might work for others. had she done that, i think a much more useful debate might have occurred.

Acid Queen said...

I don't at all think it's a shame that Dr Chua was confrontational to white people about their privilege. The fact that they got butthurt isn't her fault.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

My son started on piano at 5. Mostly I could get him to practice 40-60 minutes a day (utterly unacceptable to the writer). Last year he suddenly fell in love with the piano and now chooses to play 3-4 hours a day and wants to do a BA in music next year. He chooses to spend his money on sheet music and an additional piano rather than a car. He now has to catch up and compete with the 'chinese-parented students' who are often technically very proficient but automated (now I am stereo-typing probably). His taste in music is also more wide-ranging. In hindsight I am glad I did respect his individuality and aversion to long hours of repetition, but am also very happy that this passion has developed despite my hands-off approach. The trouble with the writer's attitude is there is no acknowledgement that children are as different from each as adults. What works for some doesn't for others. Music is actually about emotion yet this particular style of chinese-parenting requires stoicism.

Acid Queen said...

Yes Lindsay your comment is as you guessed racist. It shows why you have no place here.

Peer Review said...

'Yes Lindsay your comment is as you guessed racist. It shows why you have no place here.'

Acid, what was really racist was your reflexive anti-white comment.
Fawn over non-whites much?

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I've read reviews of the book that point to her own acknowledgment that it doesn't always work. Her first daughter was a breeze, but the second daughter fought all the way.
It seems to be a fairly honest account of her parenting style and the good and bad effects on her family. (But I haven't read it).


Psycho Milt said...

As a feminist I am a firm believer in not criticising women for the choices they make.

Shortly followed by

Yes Lindsay your comment is as you guessed racist. It shows why you have no place here.

Awesome level of self-delusion going on there.

stargazer said...

uh guys, i wouldn't bother engaging with acid queen at all. i'm figuring that if we continue to ignore him, he might either eventually grow up or just get bored and go away. anything abusive will obviously be deleted.

lindsay, i'd say there was a bit of stereotyping going on there, because i can't imagine the chinese kids who have continued with music to university level would do it without a passion for the subject. but i'd agree with your basic point about respecting individuality.

Acid Queen said...

Wow, defending an ACT candidate?

I'm not criticising Lindsay for her actions. I'm criticising her for her opinions. Big difference.

And Anjum, while you may choose to ignore me, and encourage others to do so, please don't refer to me as "he". My journey to feminity was a long and harsh one accompanied by much pain and discrimination, and I'd ask you not to add to that.

Violet said...

It really does sounds like a recipe for low self-esteem and years wasted trying to please your parents, which I can related to.
I myself (Chinese Kiwi woman with an older and traditionally-minded Chinese mum) was not pressured to be an academic over-achiever. But on the other hand, I wasn't allowed to have a social life or make my own decisions either. Quite how I was supposed to go on to marry a nice Chinese doctor or accountant, I really don't know (I didn't, anyway).

Carol said...

So Dr Chua prefers the autocratic method because Chinese children are more "successful".

This indicates to me that one method is not necessarily better than another generally, but that each is underpinned by a specific & different philosophy.

Chua's measure of success sounds like its quite competitive & individualistic and related to socially defined measures of success. Also, to me an important part of child rearing and education should be to enable a critical approach to the world. I think autocratic methods have a tendency to lean towards promoting uncritical acceptance of authorities.

Though, as Stargazer says, the actual approaches of parents in practice mostly don't conform to a pure form of authoritarian or relaxed methods. So the underlying philosophies of life would also tend to be more mixed or diverse than indicated by the 2 methods.

stargazer said...

thanx carol. someone on facebook put up a link to this at slate, which deals more with the stereotyping issue.

also, i'm not prepared to completely write off any parenting style, as there may some kids who respond best to that style. what i don't know is how you can figure out, especially at a young age, what works best for any particular child. to me, the most important aspects of parenting are adaptability and that basic respect for the individuality and humanity of each child.

stef said...

Mike Park takes to music.

Boganette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Boganette said...

While I do find Lindsay Mitchell and her mob of 'go back to your own country' ignorant assholes repulsive I don't agree that we shouldn't criticise women for the choices they make when they're pushing those same choices on other women. That's ridiculous. Criticise till the cows come home. Identifying as a woman doesn't mean you're above criticism when you're criticising other women just because they've chosen to parent differently to you. Dr Chua isn't saying "this is the choice I made. The end." She's saying 'this is the choice I made and it's better than the choice you made'.

That's fucked up.

notafeminist said...

The gist of what I've read here (and other threads) seems to lead to the following conclusion: Acid Queen has a fundamental misunderstanding of how privilege works/has a warped view of how feminism *should* work, or is a massive troll. Probably the latter.

stargazer said...

our commenting policy is to not have moderation discussion on threads, so i'd appreciate it if there are no further comments on that subject.

boganette, fair point.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

"While I do find Lindsay Mitchell and her mob of 'go back to your own country' ignorant assholes repulsive... "

Boganette, Anti-immigrant is not a sentiment I have ever expressed - anywhere. I wasn't born here.

Boganette said...

No Lindsay - it's just something you let people express on your blog in the comments. The racist filth spewed on your blog is revolting. I would be hideously embarrassed if trash like that commented on my blog. By not moderating - and allowing that view to go unchallenged you are condoning racism and xenophobia.

The fact that you're an immigrant yourself but allow the abuse of other immigrants on your blog doesn't surprise me at all. You are definitely that type of person.

Apologies for the de-rail - I just had to say something to Lindsay's piss-weak defence.

Peer review said...

The constant invective on this blog against so called "privileged" white males is both sexist and racist.
Don't see any moderation there?

Boganette said...

Hey! Privilege Denying Dude has arrived!

Psycho Milt said...'s just something you let people express on your blog in the comments.

You say that like letting people express their opinions in comments on your blog is a Bad Thing. It isn't.

Peer Review said...

Hey! Privilege accusing Komissar has responded! Can I choose my own gulag?

Boganette said...

You say that like letting people express their opinions in comments on your blog is a Bad Thing. It isn't.

Oh it isn't? Gosh I'm sorry! I see a difference between "I disagree with you here's why..." and "She's not even a real New Zealander she needs to go back to her own country". Do you? Or are you just deliberately trying to miss the point. Could you maybe tell me a bit more about blogging? And how comments work?

Peer Review - Gulag? Hahaha wow, you have reached a level of hysteria that I can't quite keep up with. Why isn't there a white history month! How come there's not a ministry for mens affairs! Being denied the right to be racist on a blog is like genocide! We had a female prime minister! The US has a black president! WAAAA! WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ!

(I saved you the trouble of continuing to derail this post).

And yes, everything I just said earns you a gold medal at the Oppression Olympics.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Boganette, All bloggers have to deal with the tension between freedom of speech and censorship. I don't have the time to deal with every comment I don't personally support. 'Moderation' was turned on for a while but is was too big a deterrent to input. The following is my current 'comments policy'.

"Comments are not moderated but will be deleted if they are abusive. Non-deletion of comments does not infer approval or agreement with the sentiments expressed."

Peer Review said...

It is not me who is projecting hysteria.

I don't seek a white anything but if you keep tearing down the good things that Europeans have created, including freedom of speech, democracy and technology, including the computer in front of you then who will be around to protect your precious 'western feminism?'

Be careful what you wish for.

You won't find any support for your ideas outside of the Euro peoples, but I fear you have not made that connection.
Your philosophy is totally inconsistent, Chua's parents for instance were part of a 1% minority in the Philippines who own a vast percentage of the economy there, but non-white groups are fast approaching sainthood in the weird world of leftism.
The non-euro peoples keep following Europeans around though...doesn't that say something for their own social systems?

Boganette said...

That's a great cop-out for allowing targeted racist attacks against people Lindsay.

Peer Review - wow. Let me guess it's not white power it's white pride?

stargazer said...

peer review, i'd suggest you go and read some feminist 101 posts and get a clue rather than continuing to embarass yourself at this site. and it would help if you would bother reading the actual post & comments to date to save yourself even further embarassment. almost all comments here disagree with chua's piece in a variety of ways.

no-one here has done the tearing down that you're whining about. and you might actually want to educate yourself about who technological innovation that has happened all around the world - no one race is superior in that regard. (wow, i can't believe i even needed to say that - talk about clueless).

and guess what, we don't need you to "protect western feminism" or any other kind of feminism. we're doing perfectly well without you. if you feel hard done by at this blog, please feel free to not visit it.

A Nonny Moose said...

Oh Colonialists, hallowed by thy name. Thy country come, thy oppression will be done...

Excuse me, I'd just like to get this 42 carriage derail back on track.

Psycho Milt said...

Could you maybe tell me a bit more about blogging? And how comments work?

Apparently someone needs to. Having a comments thread is an invitation to post comments. Some bloggers delete the comments they don't like - fine, it's their blog. Some bloggers take the view that there's no point in inviting people to express their opinions if you're just going to delete the opinions you don't like - fine, it's their blog.

Trying to claim one approach is good and one bad is pointless. It's not your blog, so your assessment of the merits of the blogger's approach to comments is of no consequence - as the owners of this blog have had to point out to many commenters (including me) at one time or another.

Oh it isn't? Gosh I'm sorry! I see a difference between "I disagree with you here's why..." and "She's not even a real New Zealander she needs to go back to her own country". Do you?

Yes, but it's irrelevant. At issue is whether Lindsay owns the opinions expressed by commenters on her blog; she doesn't. I can't imagine any credible case for claiming that she does.

Brett Dale said...

As a blog owner who gets no comments, my point of view is that if a person is their to spam, their comment gets deleted, anything else goes, unless its just offensvie abuse, blog owners can do what they like to do their own.

The only thing that has ever suprised me on a blog, was I once wrote a comment on a blog and someone (not the blog owner) told me not to write on the blog again.

I guess there are still some people who want to be the blog police.

Boganette said...

It's up to you whether you believe that removing threats of violence against people, targeted racist attacks on individuals, hate speech etc is the same as removing opinions you don't agree with.

I see these differently - maybe that comes from not being desperate for blog comments. I think it's pathetic to act like a blog that gets upwards of six or seven comments a post max is just way too difficult to moderate.

I would never allow comments that are just hate speech onto my blog and leave them unchallenged and then be so desperately niave to claim that they won't be linked to my personal opinion.

There are of course people who will have a cry about being moderated and claim that not posting racist hateful comments is just suppressing opinions. I don't have time for that myself. And I think I've clearly stated that. I personally don't give a shit if someone feels that I'm taking away their freedom of speech by not allowing them to come to my blog and post sexist, homophobic or racist hate.

You can claim there are blog police all you like. Or have a winge about not being able to speak your mind. Or indeed get on your high-horse and completely miss the point and view this as a human rights issue where poor racists are being oppressed. Basically I just see it as owning what's on your blog. If you have people using the N word, claiming Muslims aren't human, calling for death to gay people etc - you will be judged for it by some people.

Luckily there are people around who will be a shoulder to cry on for those sad losers.

Boganette said...

Brett - for what it's worth I've never deleted any of your comments on my blog. Despite the fact that I've never agreed with anything you've said.

Psycho Milt said...

As a matter of interest, has anyone ever tried to claim Brett's opinions are yours because you didn't delete them from your comments threads? Would you consider it fair for them to do so?

Lindsay Mitchell said...

"If you have people using the N word, claiming Muslims aren't human, calling for death to gay people etc - you will be judged for it by some people."

None of this happens on my blog.

Boganette said...

You're still not getting it Psycho. People know that my opinions are not the same as Brett's because I challenge his opinions in my blog. When he comments I tell him I don't agree with what he said. Brett also knows how to disagree with me without using hate speech.

If you blog is used as a platform for hate speech you will get judged for it. Have you never heard of proverbs like “Tell me what company you keep and I'll tell you what you are.” I'm confused as to how you don't understand that concept.

If you leave racist attacks against a person on your blog unchallenged then people are going to think you're racist. Lindsay actually is racist so that's neither here nor there.

Really Lindsay? I'm sure you're far too busy to read your wildly popular blog so you really wouldn't know what's on it.

Either way this has been a massive derail. This was actually a really interesting post that doesn't need to be hijacked by a rant about moderation.

Brett Dale said...


Yes you have never censored my posts on your blog.

I have only ever censored spam on my blog.

I believe blog owners have the right to say and the right to what comments they allow on their blog.

Hugh said...

Here's Dr Chua's perspective: