The Russ Categories are a group of Silencing tactics used specifically to "silence", i.e. devalue and discredit, women's writing. They were originally described by author Joanna Russ in How to Suppress Women's Writing, and later revised and condensed by linguist and feminist sci-fi critic MJ Hardman along with her colleague Anita Taylor and her students.

Hardman-Taylor Categories

Denial of Agency

This rhetorical strategy denies that a woman is the real author of a work. If she wrote it, it's because she was influenced, or taught, or helped. Or, critics may describe her authorship as coming from instinct, passion, or her unconscious.

Pollution of Agency

Pollution of Agency attacks use a woman's character or traits attributed to her considered to be negative to deny the quality or importance of her work. Sex and sexuality, mental health status, or physical attractiveness are common traits or actions used in a pollution of agency attack.

False Categorization

By miscategorizing the work, or shifting the definition of what makes a work valid, the importance and value of a woman's work is often denied and her status made trivial. This apply to the substance of a work, or where the work is situated in a domain or a genre, or to the author's intersectional identities as they are perceived to categorize the work.


The work is trivialized by claiming it to be the only one of its kind, or the only (significant) work that the author ever produced. In this way women are denied the accumulative history of all their accomplishments. (See also: Appeal to exception.)


This attack presents the author in isolation, as the only one of her kind.

Lack of Models

Passive Exonerative


Further expansions on the Russ Categories

Liz Henry in an essay in the WisCon Chronicles vol. 6, described how at a talk at FooCamp, she built on Hardman, Taylor, and Russ's work to point out these categories are anti-patterns that apply in general to ways that dominant cultures or people describe and circumscribe the cultural production by non-dominant people. Explaining misogynist and racist critiques of the work of women and people of color (including their coding work) as anti-patterns can help programmers and developers to detect, avoid, and fight those anti-patterns.

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