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LaVoi’s Sociological Perspective on Warrior Girls


by Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D. — Associate Director, Tucker Center

Let me begin by stating that sport injuries and sport injury prevention are very real and important issues—for both girls and boys. However, framing the issue of sport injuries as an inevitable biological difference based on the sex of the athlete is sensationalistic and irresponsible. First, an argument based primarily on biology and physiology altogether ignores that sport performance (and therefore injury) is also shaped by social forces such as coaches’ and parents’ beliefs about what it means to be a “female athlete.” Second, this sort of deterministic approach assumes that males, by definition, are naturally (physically) superior to females. In this framework, male athletes are the norm to which females are constantly compared, and any gender differences are therefore constructed as inherent female deficiencies. The consequence of such biology-is-destiny arguments? Professor Cheryl Cooky, Cal State-Fullerton, sums it up best: “Concerns regarding the supposed biological limitations of the female body to withstand rigorous athletic competition have historically served to justify restricting girls’ and women’s access to sport.”

Though Sokolove does indicate that we should also be concerned about sport injuries males sustain, rarely, if ever, are books published devoted to the negative consequences of sport participation on the health and well-being of boys and men. Interestingly, a search for a similar book or article on the “epidemic” of male sport injuries yielded nothing, despite published research which indicates that NFL players’ life expectancy is 15-20 years lower than the general American male population and that many suffer ill effects from playing professional football, including obesity, heart disease, chronic pain and crippling arthritis.

The anatomy-is-destiny perspective also ignores the reality that some female athletes are stronger, have better motor skills, and are more coordinated than some male athletes, and that risk for injury runs along a continuum, rather than a sex-determined binary. In the final analysis, males and females are more similar than they are different—both compete in sports and both get injured in a variety of sports and physical activities. As a result, concerns relating to all the correlates of sport injury, social and psychological as well as biological and physiological, need to be given equal consideration.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Zander permalink
    10/15/2008 2:16 pm

    I think that there’s a multitude of reasons leading to injury, and I think that you neglected one of the more important one’s in your article and that is the rules of the game. The majority of sport injuries happen within the rules of the game. There is a noticeable difference between the room for injury allowed in the rules of men’s sports versus women’s. Football is vicious by it’s very rules, as is hockey. In contrast, women’s sports contains much more protective rules because of gender logic. To attribute injury rates to being either male or female biology is shortsighted. We must look beyond the actors and see the system that they operate in to have a full understanding of injury rates.

  2. David Keeney permalink
    10/15/2008 4:00 pm

    I don’t think it’s right to think that males are the “dominate” sex and are the standard in which female athletes look up to. Injuries occur just as often between both males and females. It’s not because males are stronger and females are weaker. Injuries can happen in all sorts of ways during the course of a game. I tore my ACL in high school, one of the most common sports injuries, and i can name several girls who have done the same. So does that make me a weaker male? I think that there is little genetic evidence to show that men are less likely to incur an injury than woman, because of the activities we participate in. Men and women both play sports like soccer, basketball, and hockey and are just as likely to get injured playing these sports as the other. In general I believe men are stronger doing day to day things like lifting heavy things or what not, but women are just as able to run or swim as far as men. So how can genetic differences show that women are more likely to get injured because of their physical shape and size? Anyone and everyone can get hurt making sharp cuts on the field, rolling an ankle while sliding, or tearing a ligament when getting hit while planted.

  3. Benjamin permalink
    10/15/2008 6:34 pm

    I think the claims made in this sensationalized book are way off. This book completely ignores the fact that most female athletic competitions today have many more rules in place to protect their athletes then Male competitions. Take Hockey for example that doesn’t even allow checking in the women’s game. Or Softball with the full football helmet being worn by the batter, or the fact that the field is so small for girls to not have to run around as much. You could go on and on. Needless to say Men and Women are far more alike, almost identical in everyway. This fascination society has with putting an emphasis on distinctions and steryotypes among the gender and races is something i just don’t understand. All human beings are alike, and the author’s attempt to try and say we should protect our women “more” when instead we should be letting them play more like the men. Society needs to understand that men and women are very much alike, and should be treated as such.

  4. Megan Schall permalink
    10/18/2008 6:26 pm

    I have not read this book, but I do find it interesting that the author chose to write about how and why female athletes get injured and what to do about it and not look at injuries in general and what could be done to make male and female athletes less injury-prone. I would be surprised if the author did not expect that there would be some major controversy over the content of his book, and I wonder if he ever considered writing about injuries throughout sports instead of focusing on females and how to explain their injuries. Maybe the author does not really believe that female athletes are injury-prone because they are female, but apparently he comes across that way in the book. I wonder why he felt the need to explain female athlete injuries in the first place. If he were concerned about the occurence of sport related injuries in females, shouldn’t he be considering the factors that lead to injuries in both men and women (such as some of the ones mentioned in other comments – different rules, pressure from coaches etc.)? I guess I would be interested to hear what the author has to say about why he wrote this book, why he chose to only examine injuries in females, and why he felt the need to explain and give reasons for the number of injuries to female athletes.

  5. Mike Lewis permalink
    10/19/2008 3:13 pm

    Being that I have not read the book, there may be a great deal of details that I am not aware of, but from what I know here, I think its a bit odd that someone would try and say that women are more likely to get hurt more because of their biology. There are so many more things that need to be taken into account rather than just biology. I also find it puzzling that the focus was on women, not men and women, not on sports that both men and women play, or even sport in general or as a whole. All athletes understand the risk of injury associated with playing sports and based on the incredible numbers of participation, it doesn’t bother them. Its an occupational hazard and we all know what we’re getting into when we signed up.

  6. Stephanie Saucier permalink
    10/29/2008 10:45 am

    As a female athlete, I have noticed the many differences in male and female sport rules. A good example is lacrosse. Boys are allowed to full contact, while girls aren’t. In my opinion, if a girl’s sport can’t perform on a platform either level or very close to the boys level, why even have it. I know there are a lot of girls who love playing lacrosse (my sister, one of them), but want a little more give in the rules. If you go to a high school girls and boys lacrosse game, look at the amount of people who show up. I’ll bet any amount of money that there are more at the boy’s game. People want to see the contact of guys hitting each other with 7 foot aluminum sticks, but don’t want to see girls who skirt around each other attempting not to get a yellow card. I’ll admit that girl’s lacrosse is a little boring after watching many boys’ games.
    I have always said that if a girl wants to go and put on pads, and play with the boys, go right ahead, but you should know what you’re getting into. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see girl’s playing the boy’s version of lacrosse. I would love to see it. Why not switch it around so that every player can see and feel what it’s like?
    I at first wanted to read this book, but after reading what the important members of the Tucker Center and the author said, I’m not planning on it. Let girls play what they want to play, and stop comparing them to boys. Girls are way different than boys in a lot of things.

  7. Eric Christiansen permalink
    10/30/2008 6:55 pm

    After looking over the authors response I find it very interesting that he was able to find so much research that indicates female bodies are much more fragile than male bodies. Since from what I know male and female biology is almost the same, in addition there are rules in womens sports that restrict large amounts of physical contact. So with less contact and the biology, I find it hard to believe that there can be such an abnormal injury level in women compared to men that he is able to write a book entirely about it. My only guess is that he used some sort of gender ideology or deep rooted ideals when writing this book, otherwise I can see no point in it.

  8. Ben Fossen permalink
    11/12/2008 5:19 pm

    I think it is very hard to compare the injuries happen in women’s sports to men’s sports. The rules are so much different. Rules for men’s sports encourage very physical and rough contact. Rules in women’s sports are made to avoid contact and physical play. The ideology that men are superior to women is one that is widely accepted. I think the way Michael Sokolove gathered his data is flawed he has forgotten some important factors. His approach does not seem quite scientific. It seems as if he wants to further the ideology that men are superior to women and gathers data that will prove the ideology and neglects some important factors. It does seem that Men are superior to women in some certain physical activities for example in war, hard physical labor, and other related things. Just because Men are better at some strenuous physical activities does not mean men are superior to women.

  9. brett branan permalink
    11/25/2008 2:54 pm

    I don’t think that rules really have anything to do with it when it comes to soccer. As someone has played soccer at both the college and professional levels as well as coached a variety of both girls and boys youth teams, and viewed many soccer games of both sexes, I feel I have a decent understanding of how some of these injuries occur. The mens game and the womens game are very different in the style at which they are played – mostly at the youth and collegiate levels. Speed of play, ball possession,and mentality are all different from males to females. I am not saying that one is better or displays more skill than the other, but both an familiar and unfamiliar soccer viewer would notice considerable differences in the games. I think that there are a combination of reasons why females are suffering more knee injuries than females. Strength, flexibility, fitness, body control or lack there of, weather and field conditions (Astroturf), and mentality (which is influenced by both coaches, players and parents) have a large contribution to injury rates. To say that biomechanics give females a pre-disadvantage is not necessarily true. I may be the case in some, but not all. Coaching and style of play strongly contribute to the way a person plays, and historically, the more knowledgeable coaches (professional experience) have coached males- at least a the youth levels. Thankfully this is changing and females receive better coaching and this might contribute to less injuries. Sokolove talks about the mentality of female athlete, soccer specifically, and how they play as if they are at war on the battle field, especially with regards to UNC soccer. I can see were he might get this from because there is a lot of, I don’t want to say clumsy tackles, but tackles with less regard for there body in womens soccer – at the collegiate level. I think this has to do with coaching , because I have seen plenty of games where it is far more attractive to watch then males matches. That is just my opinion as a male soccer player.
    I don’t believe that there is one specific reason why there are more injuries, but a combination – all of which need to be examined.

  10. Tyler Biwan permalink
    11/29/2008 8:54 pm

    I never really paid close attention to the differences in rules that individual sports hold until we talked about it in class. The rules that eliminate or reduce contact and aggressive play in women’s sports bring up an interesting argument. I would look past the printed rulebook however, and look at the degree to which calls are made. For example; is whatever warrants a simple foul in women’s basketball also considered a foul in the men’s game? By the book, they’re defined as the same thing, but men’s basketball referees often allow the players to play and avoid small handchecks that would be called in a women’s game. This is not taking away anything from the women’s game, saying they can’t handle the contact; rather that women’s bball referees tend to be stricter with their calls to prevent large amounts of contact.
    I don’t have a great deal of knowledge with biology, but I think it’s difficult to argue the women’s vs. men’s injuries from a biological perspective. It sounds like in his book, Sokolove briefly talks about injuries in men’s sports, and briefly says we should be concerned about it but doesn’t go into it. Dr. LaVoi brings up the interesting idea of NFL players and the long-term health issues they face. Avoiding topics like these and focusing on women’s injuries just highlights the gender ideologies that our society focuses. Interesting topic.

  11. Kristen Beer permalink
    12/05/2008 12:53 am

    I understand what Dr. LaVoi was trying to convey about how men’s standards should not be what women need to live upto. That being the top female athlete should be respected the same as being the top male athlete. I work with mostly males with the football team, and Title IX and the importance of female sports sometimes comes up in conversation. Some of them believe that women sports will always be inferior to male sports and that it is because women are biologically inferior. This type of belief could be a factor in why some women’s sports are not played the same as men’s sports. In order for women to gain more importance the public needs to think of female athletes in a separete way then male athletes.

  12. Karen permalink
    12/10/2008 4:08 am

    I have just read the book. I, too, wondered if injuries are as prevalent as the author suggests, but I don’t have any sports background. I just wanted to say why the author claims that girls are more prone to injuries than boys for some sports. He does blame it on biology–he says that the wider hips and the tilt of the pelvis put women in a different running posture than men, one that is less stable and puts stress on joints differently. He also discusses people who are training girls how to run with a different–that is, safer–posture and says that it could be done, but that it just isn’t. He cites women’s increased flexibility as another part of the problem, and then says that it could be overcome with more specialized weight training. He cites personal drive and ambition as a cause that these girls–who are getting these injuries from bad luck and lack of preventative training–are not letting themselves rest enough during recovery from injuries.
    The book definitely focused on women, but I don’t know that it was sexist exactly. Yeah, OK, there is the tragic, pretty white girl victim thing kind of going on–all the poor kids with so much soccer ahead of them are all attractive and smart and shattered. But he’s pretty dismissive of year-round training, club sports, and early specialization for male and female athletes alike. And perhaps this is an assumption or perhaps Sokolove stated it, but the point of writing about girls and not adolescents was that the effects first of Title IX bringing lots of women into sports and then the changing, commercial culture surrounding it that makes sports participation so intense (and damaging) is showing up suddenly in this first generation of girls experiencing it. It’s a class of athletes that can serve as an object lesson for what is happening all over. In some sports (the fast, direction-changing ones).
    I dunno. It’s late. Maybe I am misremembering the book, or maybe I’m describing a book that hasn’t been written. Maybe I am just being generous.

  13. Lindsay Barthel permalink
    12/16/2008 12:08 am

    I think I get what Dr. LaVoi is saying. Its hard to really pick out the major differences because the separation of how womens sports are played is definitely different than how mens sports are played. With the rules playing a big part, we are able to see that, by the looks of it womens physique just doesnt really compare to that of a mans which is unfair to say, but potentially accurate. Being in the marching band with 300 people of both sexes, we are required to do the exact same physical activities as each other are and I think it is a very fair way of showing that women are just as capable as men because band takes a lot out of you.
    Its just too bad that the main focus is that male bodies are “tougher” or “stronger” than females according to the author and I am glad that Dr. LaVoi brings up the fact that injuries for both girls and boys are bad. We are after all, all people here who should stay in good health

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