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Is Eileen Gu a Good Role Model for Chinese Women? A Blogger Weighs In

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On February 10, Chinese social media influencer Chen Xiaoyu dropped a six-minute video on Weibo, raising concerns over the danger of labeling Olympic gold medalist Eileen Gu as a role model for Chinese women. Gu won the hearts of millions in China for winning an impressive two golds and a silver in three different freestyle skiing events during her Winter Games debut.

Chen, who is almost the same age as Gu, centers her speech around the so-called “myth of meritocracy” and argues that public discourse around Gu has been “misleading and even dangerous.”

She argues that average individuals simply don’t have access to Gu’s elite education resources.

“It is more like a success story of a second-generation, middle-class American, rather than a story of a Chinese feminist or a woman who succeeds by herself,” she says in the video. (Gu was born in the U.S. to a Chinese mother and American father and chose to represent China at the Olympics in 2019 — to considerable backlash.)

Both women have been vocal about their feminist beliefs in the past. Gu has addressed gender issues since high school, and Chen leverages her influence to spotlight issues of women’s rights, including a recent incident of alleged human trafficking in China.

However, Chen points out that Gu’s privileges make it hard to see her success as meaningful for Chinese women as a group, as it would be difficult for other women in China to replicate.

As an example, she points to the ‘success secret’ that Gu sleeps 10 hours every day, something that simply isn’t feasible for most people in China, presumably due to the demanding work culture in the country.  

“It’s not like we don’t want to sleep 10 hours every day,” she adds. “Our lives simply don’t allow us to do that.”

The blogger’s video has been viewed more than 3.9 million times and has accumulated more than 5,000 comments.

Eileen Gu‘s success debate

Chen Xiaoyu in the viral video. Screengrab via Weibo

Under the video, many echo Chen’s message.

“Indeed, Gu’s family is wealthy and supportive, and she is also gifted in sports. Not everyone is that lucky,” a netizen commented.

Another posted: “I don’t appreciate the over-glorification of Gu as a symbol for women’s empowerment. By ignoring the structural inequality and the unfortunate reality of marginalized women, it creates an illusion.”

Chen’s video also triggered conversations about the danger of meritocracy.

“Meritocracy makes people think others fail because they don’t work hard enough, and these ‘lazy’ people don’t deserve to be helped,” one commenter wrote. “This is the reason why we need to be careful of meritocracy.”

From her makeup routine to what kind of dumplings she eats to celebrate, ‘Eileen Gu fervor’ has swept across China’s social media since the start of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, which concluded yesterday.

Nevertheless, many have praised her for being a hardworking student and an impressive athlete. Chen herself is a fan of Gu, as she mentions at the beginning of the video.

Her speech, however, offers a fresh, albeit cautionary perspective on Gu’s story: Many simply don’t have the resources she’s enjoyed to become the superstar she is today.

Cover image via Depositphotos

Kayla He
    Born and raised in China, Kayla received her BA in Communications and Public Service from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently works as a staff writer at RADII and is passionate about telling stories related to social issues women's empowerment. You can find her exploring coffee shops in Shanghai in her free time or rushing for Duffy and Friends plush toys at Shanghai Disneyland.
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