The science of testing testosterone levels is more than a little flaky, an important fact that serves as the foundation for writer/director Phyllis Ellis's feature doc Category: Woman, a film having its world premiere at this week's Hot Docs in Toronto.
Category: Woman centers around the world of competitive track and the controversies that have arisen following the emergency of Castor Semenya, an 800-meter runner whose levels of testosterone tested high resulting in the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) working overtime to prevent her from competing. Semenya has since then dedicated herself to fighting this bias and to the right to compete.
Category: Woman offers other examples, though all of the cases involve Black or brown women with nary an American or European woman impacted. Annette Negesa, a Ugandan runner, is one of the most noteworthy cases as her testosterone levels tested into what is considered the male levels. It was determined she would only be allowed to compete if she endured a clitorectomy.
In some ways, Category: Woman is a procedural placed squarely in the capable hands of civil rights activist/lawyer Payoshni Mitra as she has supported several of the women involved in these cases. India's Dutee Chand took her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) which ruled that the science backing the IAAF regulation was insufficient. IAAF, and in particular the film's true baddie IAAF head Sebastian Coe (also a former Olympic runner), merely adapted their science and then reinstated the same rule. This time, Semenya took the case back to CAS and CAS upheld the rule. Semenya, Chand, and others continue to fight.
Category: Woman is an intelligent, engaging documentary that explores the history of the question "What is female?" mostly in sport but also in culture. It's a question that has often been asked, however, it's also a question has become as timely as ever once again. Category: Woman points out that nowhere else are athletes punished for the natural state of their bodies and time and again the film affirms that the science behind testosterone levels is questionable and wholly inadequate as a test related to gender determination.
Simultaneously maddening and emotionally resonant, Category: Woman will undoubtedly experience a lengthy festival run with its timely debate and passionate discourse.