Sport has a long and problematic history of policing women athletes' bodies. Category: Woman focuses on four women athletes from the Global South who are required to undergo medical intervention to compete in their sport, despite being in perfect health, and explores what happens when sexism and racism collide.
When 18-year-old South African runner Caster Semenya burst onto the world stage in 2009, her championship was not celebrated, but instead launched a series of increasingly invasive public attacks, exposing her personal medical records via the international media, and stirring relentless debates on her “legitimacy” as an athlete and as a woman. Using women's naturally varying androgen levels to evaluate their performance advantages, the sporting institution World Athletics create new rules declaring certain female athletes must medically alter their healthy bodies to compete in their sport. Category: Woman focuses on four athletes from the Global South who are targeted and forced out of competition by these regulations, and explores the devastation both to their bodies and their private lives. Filmmaker and former Olympian Phyllis Ellis exposes an industry controlled by men that puts women’s lives at risk and raises issues of racism, sexism, and the right to determine another persons’ biological sex.
"Category: Woman delicately portrays the athletes featured in it on their own terms. Given the incredible complexity of accessing the athletes for interviews, it is unlikely a film like this will come around for another decade at least."
- Kyle Knight, Senior Researcher, Health and LGBT Rights, Human Rights Watch
“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.”
- Phyllis Ellis, Director, Category: Woman