Chinese Olympian wins gold in shot put, faces sexist interview questions from state broadcaster

Society & Culture

Gong Lijiao won Olympic gold for China, but China Central TV asked her about marriage plans. Chinese internet users are not amused.

gong lijiao
Gong Lijiao at the women's shot-put victory celebration during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan.

This is Gǒng Lìjiāo 巩立姣. She’s a 32-year-old Chinese athlete and she just won her first Olympic gold medal in the women’s shot put with a personal best of 20.58 meters (67.5 feet). But who cares about that, because what’s apparently most important about her is her appearance and her dating life — according to China Central Television (CCTV), the country’s state broadcaster, anyway. 

After her victory on Sunday, Gong, the reigning two-time world champion, should have been doing a post-game interview (in Chinese) about how she managed to do things with her body that few women — or men — can accomplish. But NOPE! Instead, Lù Yōu 陆幽, a sports correspondent for CCTV, first shared her surface-level impression of Gong on camera, saying that the gold medalist looked like a nuhanzi (女汉子 nǚhànzǐ), a Chinese slang term that translates to “masculine woman.”

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“I might look like a manly woman from outside, but I still feel like a little girl inside,” Gong replied, politely refuting Lu’s shallow observation. 

Lu — not taking a cue — continued to ask Gong what her next step is “as a girl.” She said, “You used to be a masculine woman for the sake of shot put. Going forward, can you finally be yourself?”

Gong appeared slightly taken aback by the question. After a brief pause, she answered, “It really depends on my future plan. If I eventually quit shot put, then I will probably lose some weight, get married, and have children. The path that everyone has to take in life.”

At this point, Gong was visibly over with the awkward conversation. But Lu and her videographer refused to call it a day, proceeding to ask Gong what she was looking for in a prospective partner and if they would be intimidated by her in arm wrestling.

“I’m not going to arm-wrestle my partner. I’m a gentle person,” Gong said to conclude the segment.

gong lijiaoWhile Gong took the questions good-naturedly, plenty of internet users were offended on her behalf, venting their displeasure on Chinese social media and labeling the interview “sexist” and “disrespectful.” 

“This is utterly ridiculous and unprofessional. Was there nothing sports-related she could have actually asked instead? I thought we had long moved past these petty sexist stereotypes,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). Another person quipped (in Chinese), “Gong should have asked the reporter when she was planning to become a world champion.”

The outrage quickly snowballed into a social media campaign urging people to stop making crude comments about women’s bodies and using traditional societal benchmarks like marriage and childbirth to define women’s success. On Weibo, the discussion mainly took place under the hashtag “Is marriage the only thing we can discuss about women?” #女性能被谈论的只有婚姻吗#, which has been viewed more than 330 million times so far. 

gong lijiaoGong hasn’t yet responded to the controversy, but she made her feelings very clear by replying to a viral post (in Chinese) on Weibo, which read, “It’s not like Gong can’t find a husband. Most men just don’t deserve her. Discourse about women isn’t limited to marriage and physical appearances. There are also dreams and success.”

“This is exactly what I was thinking. Thank you for putting it into words for me!” Gong wrote.

The disrespect and devaluation that Gong endured is a common occurrence for Chinese women, especially in conversations about their professional achievements. Meanwhile, the tendency to focus on women’s looks and bodies instead of their character traits or abilities — even in situations where looks should not matter — is quite widespread in Chinese society. But in recent years, as an increasing number of Chinese women start to display higher self-confidence and feel comfortable in their own skin, gender stereotypes and sexist comments are fortunately being called out more and more.