Who is a woman and who gets to decide?
With the bans of transgender girls and women in sports, people have forgotten about this story of ‘identified’ women who were/are being blocked because of the naturally occurring amount of androgen in their bodies.
Directed by Phyllis Ellis, the documentary Category: Woman focuses on four athletes forced out of competition by these regulations, and the devastation to their bodies and lives.
Category: Woman will World Premiere at the 2022 Hot Docs film festival.
When 18-year-old South African runner Caster Semenya burst onto the world stage with a gold medal in the World Championships in 2009, her achievement was not celebrated, but marred by doubt, her personal medical records leaked to the international media. Was the public scrutiny of her body, driven by racism and sexism, questioning the most fundamental right of who she is and who she was told she should be? The International Amateur Athletics Federation (now World Athletics) ruled that ‘identified’ female athletes must medically alter their healthy bodies in order to compete. Their naturally high androgen levels was deemed a performance advantage.
Category: Woman focuses on four athletes forced out of competition by these regulations, and the devastation to their bodies and lives. However, their passion for sport is further emboldened by their conviction to stand up for their human rights. Following up on her award-winning film Toxic Beauty, Phyllis Ellis exposes an industry controlled by men putting women’s lives at risk while this policing of their bodies in sport remains, under the guise of fair play.
Watch the first trailer clips from Category: Woman.
In a statement, filmmaker Phyllis Ellis said, “I was inspired and deeply affected by this story far beyond that of a filmmaker. I had experienced many challenges as an Olympian, and as a woman in high performance sport, but I may have collapsed under the pressure these phenomenal athletes have endured. The devastation to their bodies, and their lives, but equally arresting was their passion and joy for sport, the dedication to their communities, families and country.
How could this have happened?
All of their personal medical records leaked to the international media. The misinformation, public scrutiny, racism, sexism, the questioning of the most fundamental right of who they are and who they are told they should be. This is a basic human right. All of this to compete in their sport on the world stage, a coveted space where we are supposed to be protected.
We hoped to celebrate each woman while they tell us the truth of their experience. And to lens the film in a way that empowered, subverted the gaze and did not disembody the athlete from the human being. We hope to provide an audience with enough context to understand, to feel what we felt, and not be overwhelmed in explanation. To be vigilant and stand beside the women in this film, and to step out of my lived experience as a filmmaker from the Global North. To say that human dignity and human rights must be afforded to all athletes, to say clearly, this should never happen again.“