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The Smell of Success? You Go, Girl!


Feminism has been declared dead, so I'm not sure what to call the assertive culture of modern girls and women. You can find it in marketing and pop-culture phenomena—the thrust of the jaw in The Gap's model, Vivian Solari, or Shania Twain's hit single ("That Don't Impress Me Much," a wry comment on male vanities). You can listen to kids talk ("You go, girl!"). Or you can look at the serious strides women are taking: Women own 38% of all US businesses; women now outpace men in college degrees earned (56% to 44% in 1999); and they are expected to take a similar lead at the graduate level in a few years.

And, of course, there's sports. The WNBA, the soccer World Cup, women's tennis...suddenly, these have enthusiastic fan and media attention, promotions, personalities, magazines, spin-offs—and a climate of intensity, competition, and at least a whiff of money. Both spurring these professional-level developments and being spurred by them is the vastly increased participation in sports by female students. In US high schools, for example, the number of female student-athletes in 1997 reached 2.5 million, up from 300,000 in 1971, according to Jo A. Hannafin, MD, PhD. (The majority of adult US women, like adult US men, are still sedentary [unfortunately], but accepted activity options are many and growing.)

What distinguishes these phenomena from the old feminism is the underlying assumption of equality. A generation ago, feminists had to work to establish that assumption. Now, phrases like "run with the boys" are passé not because women have achieved all we plan or need to—we haven't—but because competing with "the boys" is not the main concern. The point is the achievement, whatever that may be. In the realm of sports, this means that women's teams and athleticism are no longer considered just curiosities or pale copies of men's sports. Instead, they are intrinsically worthy as examples of the pursuit of excellence in the context of intense competition.

In sports medicine, researchers and clinicians are responding to the growth in women's athletics by studying gender-related differences in injury rates and examining positive and negative aspects of physical activity and health in women, such as osteoporosis prevention and the female athlete triad. A number of such developments are reflected in this issue.

Robert Cantu, MD, an editorial board member, and Frederick Mueller, PhD, examine deaths and catastrophic injuries in all US high school and college athletes (page 35), but also present the data on and make recommendations for women separately. On page 19, we report on recent conferences on "Women's Health in Sports and Exercise" and on noncontact ACL injuries in particular. And in this issue's "Exercise Is Medicine" article, editorial board member Raul Artal, MD, presents current recommendations for exercise during pregnancy (page 51).

As sports and exercise trends and participation change, so will injuries and measures for prevention and treatment. We'll do our best to keep you up to date on these changes for both women and men. In the meantime, here are a few hopes for continued achievements by and for women:

  • That more female physicians and scientists will work in the area of physical activity and health (will half The Physician and Sportsmedicine's board and authors be female one day?);
  • That my daughter's generation will be the one to jettison the female obsession with fatness, and work on their swim strokes or GPAs instead;
  • That the assumption of equality (meaning equal status, not "sameness") will become reality for all women;
  • That Mary Schill, The Physician and Sportsmedicine's production director and resident stock-car racer, not be set apart as "the gal" at her next race.

Most sincerely,
Susan Hawthorne
Executive Editor