The cultural and political significance of tiger mothering

2017-02-28T01:15:48Z (GMT) by Pitt, Nicola Ann
The ‘Tiger Mothering’ debate was ignited in January 2011 by Amy Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011a), and her essay of excerpts in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), ‘Why Chinese mothers are superior’ (8 Jan, 2011b). An instant bestseller, Chua’s book provoked wide discussion around the world on account of her controversial endorsement of strict and disciplined childrearing approaches, which she associated with Chinese parents, and which she contrasted with supposedly ‘Western’ childrearing that she deemed inherently ‘lazy’ and ‘weak-willed’. In a matter of days, Chua’s essay garnered thousands of responses in the online WSJ comments forum, and the story was circulated via various mainstream news media outlets and the blogosphere, where her ideas remained a popular talking point for many months. However, despite the extraordinary reach and impact that the Tiger Mothering story had on the global and cultural imagination, scholars in the social sciences have yet to pay the event any sustained attention. In this thesis, I investigate what was culturally and politically significant about Tiger Mothering, and examine why and how people responded so strongly to Chua’s claims. Undertaking an in-depth qualitative content analysis and discourse study of Chua’s book and a sample of the online news reader comments in the WSJ discussion forum, I find that Tiger Mothering is implicated in at least four distinct sets of meaning. First, my analysis reveals that Chua’s parenting philosophy is not all that different or ‘superior’ to some of the components characterising typical ‘Western’ caregiving approaches. Rather, it can be read as an elaboration and amplification of Western discourses surrounding idealised expectations of childcare. Second, I find that Tiger Mothering can also be construed as a discussion revealing people’s attitudes and understandings towards certain types of caregiving styles. This is indicative of a new form of ‘parenting culture’ wherein parents are encouraged to be actively involved in discussions about what constitutes ‘proper’ childrearing in the contemporary era. Third, there is some evidence to suggest that Tiger Mothering acted as prism which reflected and refracted U.S. concerns over the recent ‘rise’ of China as a world superpower. This aspect of Tiger Mothering provides an opportunity to gauge what some people think about the potential ‘threat’ that China poses to U.S. primacy in the realm of geopolitics. Finally, I find that Tiger Mothering both perpetuates and challenges some of the stereotypical depictions of Asians and Asian Americans. This study demonstrates how Tiger Mothering is a meaningful discursive text that reflects several key social issues and concerns. It also highlights how people communicate and interact in digital spaces, such as news websites, in the twenty-first century.