51 Seriously Badass Ladies Who Will Make You Proud To Be A Woman

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ― Nora Ephron

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

I spend a disproportionate amount of my day thinking about all the awesome women in the world, and how I can be more like them. I’ve always felt like there was something special about being a woman: an innate, magical strength that could overcome any obstacle. Women are deep, feeling creatures. We spend our days in between the layers of the things that are said, mulling over each moment for a sense of purpose.

It was strange, then, when I got older and realized that the world didn’t always get that girls — women — were magical beings. The older I got, the more I felt the need to defend my specialness, and that of the women around me.

There are those who aren’t interested in what women have to say — they would rather place us as props in a man’s story. It’s hard not to get dejected when you realize you may not be the protagonist of your own life, but I found solace in the lives of of the strong, interesting, complicated women around me. Women who didn’t wait for the world to come to them but rather went after the world. Women who refused to be furniture in someone else’s house. These were the women who saved me from myself, who made me want to grow up, and into, the fullest expression of who I could be.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept a running list of exceptional women in my mind. This is my list; it’s not perfect or complete. There are still those whose stories and voices have yet to be heard. I hope one day I can add them to my list. But mostly, I hope you have your own list, and that it never stops growing.

3. 1. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, singer/mogul

Buda Mendes / Getty Images

Known for: being a boss, dropping an entire visual album on an unsuspecting public, running the world

Best quote: “I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.”

4. 2. Gloria Steinem, feminist icon

Yale Joel / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla / Getty

 

Known for: essentially starting the modern feminist movement, co-founding Ms. magazine

Best quote: “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke… She will need her sisterhood.”

5. 3. Mindy Kaling, screenwriter/showrunner/actress/author

Taylor Hill / FilmMagic for Google

Known for: creating and starring in The Mindy Project, writing and acting in The Office, authoring the hilarious book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Best quote: “I never want to be called the funniest Indian female comedian that exists. I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there. Why would I want to self-categorize myself into a smaller group than I’m able to compete in?”

6. 4. Emma Watson, actress/activist

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Known for: stealing our hearts as Hermione Granger, starring in many an indie film, becoming the U.N.’s Goodwill Ambassador for the HeForShe Campaign

Best quote: “Becoming yourself is really hard and confusing, and it’s a process. It’s often not cool to be the person who puts themselves out there.”

7. 5. Aung San Suu Kyi, politician/Nobel Peace Prize winner

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Known for: fighting for the country of Myanmar to become a free and democratic society, being held under house arrest for 21 years as a political dissenter, winning the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize

Best quote:“If you’re feeling helpless, help someone.”

8. 6. Christiane Amanpour, broadcast journalist

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Known for: being one of the first female journalists to report from the war zone, acting as CNN’s chief international correspondent, generally being a badass

Best quote: “Because if we the storytellers don’t do this, then the bad people will win.”

9. 7. Tina Fey, screenwriter/showrunner/actress/author

Jason Kempin / Getty

Known for: running things (literally): creating and starring in 30 Rock , writing the world’s most quotable movie, Mean Girls, authoring the hilarious autobiography Bossypants, acting as official best friend of Amy Poehler, and finally, being SNL’s first female head writer

Best quote: “Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.”

10. 8. Laverne Cox, actress/activist

Larry Busacca / Getty

Known for: portraying Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black, being the first trans person to be nominated for an Emmy, passionately advocating on behalf of the trans movement

Best quote: “There’s not just one trans story. There’s not just one trans experience.”

11. 9. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Known for: being the second female Supreme Court Justice after Sandra Day O’Connor, writing a “slow clap-worthy” dissent to the recent Hobby Lobby ruling

Best quote: “I do hope that some of my dissents will one day be the law.”

12. 10. Tavi Gevinson, Rookie Mag editor-in-chief/actress

Larry Busacca / Getty

Known for: running Rookie Mag, empowering young women around the world to be themselves, being profiled as a fashion blogger in The New Yorker at the age of 13

Best quote: “I wanted to start a website for teenaged girls that was not kind of this one-dimensional strong character empowerment thing, because one thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism is that girls then think that to be feminists, they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in their beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all the answers…and this is not true and actually, recognizing all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I realized that feminism was not a rule book but a discussion, a conversation, a process.”

13. 11. Melissa McCarthy, actress/producer

Kevin Winter / Getty

Known for: making you laugh until you pee; breaking out as a Hollywood powerhouse during her performance as Megan on Bridesmaids; writing, producing, and starring in her latest film, Tammy

Best quote: “Hollywood wants to make women so perfect. Perfect hair. Perfect job. Perfect manners… I know some of the most beautiful women, and they are so weird. That’s what makes them funny and captivating.”

14. 12. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

Adam Berry / Getty

Known for: being the first female Chancellor of Germany, keeping the EU economically sound

Best quote: “I never underestimated myself. And I never saw anything wrong with ambition.”

15. 13. Veronica Roth, author

Adam Bettcher / Getty

Known for: writing the world-famous Divergent trilogy at the age of 22

Best quote: “I want people to come away from my book with questions. Questions about virtue and goodness. Not answers.”

16. 14. Emma Thompson, actress/ screenwriter/author

Kevin Winter / Getty

Known for: being a generally hilarious and unapologetic powerhouse, writing a modern film adaptation of Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, flawlessly playing an increasingly wide range of characters from Nanny McPhee (which she also wrote) to Sybill Trelawney

Best quote: “Maybe I don’t take myself so seriously any more. And I don’t care how I’m judged. I’m past all that.”

17. 15. Oprah Winfrey, former talk show host/ OWN CEO/philanthropist/actress/mogul

Vera Anderson / WireImage

Known for: dominating the American/world talk show circuit for 25 years, starting her own production studio, founding her own television network, acting in films such as The Butler and The Color Purple, and generally running the world

Best quote: “The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.”

18. 16. J.K. Rowling, author

Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Known for: authoring many magical books, most notably the Harry Potter series

Best quote: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

19. 17. Emma Stone, actress

Jason Merritt / Getty

Known for: flawlessly transitioning from comedic roles to dramatic ones, using the paparazzi to raise awareness for important charities

Best quote: “Confidence is the only key. I know a lot of people who aren’t traditionally ‘beautiful’ — not symmetrical or perfect-bodied or perfect-skinned. But none of that matters because all that shines through is their confidence, humor, and comfort with themselves. I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself.”

20. 18. Nicki Minaj, rapper

Kevork Djansezian / Getty

Known for: being a motherfuckin’ boss, calling out the music industry for its sexism, generally not giving a damn about what you think about her

Best quote: “When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice, and you have to — it’s like, I can’t be all of those things at once. I’m a human being.”

21. 19. Lena Dunham, actress/director/showrunner/author

Michael Buckner / Getty Entertainment Images

Known for: being an honest-to-goodness #GIRLBOSS; writing, creating, directing, and starring in Girls; authoring the upcoming memoir, Not That Kind of Girl

Best quote: “If a young woman is looking at the landscape of Hollywood, what she sees is almost only challenges.”

22. 20. Angelina Jolie, actress/activist/director/producer

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Known for: sustaining a prolific acting career, traveling the world for her philanthropic causes, publicly advocating for women’s rights globally

Best quote: “I realized that very young — that a life where you don’t live to your full potential, or you don’t experiment, or you’re afraid, or you hesitate, or there are things you know you should do but you just don’t get around to them, is a life that I’d be miserable living, and the only way to feel that I’m on the right path is just to be true to myself, whatever that may be, and that tends to come with stepping out of something that’s maybe safe or traditional.”

23. 21. Shonda Rhimes, showrunner

Leigh Vogel / Getty

Known for: pretty much single-handedly keeping ABC in business for the last 10 years; creating, writing, and running Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal; executive producing the upcoming How to Get Away with Murder

Best quote: “At some point, you have to make a decision. Boundaries don’t keep other people out. They fence you in. Life is messy. That’s how we’re made. So, you can waste your lives drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them.”

24. 22. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO

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Known for: taking over as CEO of Yahoo, being a former Google executive

Best quote: “I love technology, and I don’t think it’s something that should divide along gender lines.”

25. 23. Jennifer Lawrence, actress

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Frazer Harrison / Getty

 

Known for: portraying Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, tripping and falling at practically every award show (and not caring if she does), and most importantly, always speaking her mind

Best quote: “I’m never going to starve myself for a part.I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner.’ That’s something I was really conscious of during training, when you’re trying to get your body to look exactly right. I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong — not thin and underfed.”

26. 24. Janelle Monáe, singer

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Known for: rocking a tux like no one else; encouraging young women to be passionate, unique individuals; making some sweet music

Best quote: “I feel myself becoming the fearless person I have dreamt of being. Have I arrived? No. But I’m constantly evolving and challenging myself to be unafraid to make mistakes.”

27. 25. Barbara Walters, broadcast journalist/TV personality

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Known for: conducting many of the most important interviews of the 20th and 21st centuries, blazing the trail for future female journalists (including Oprah Winfrey, who during her first appearance as a TV anchor pretended she was Barbara Walters to calm her nerves), anchoring everything from The Today Show to 20/20 to The View

Best quote: “This is what I tell, especially young women, fight the big fights. Don’t fight the little fight… Be the first one in, be the last one out. Do your homework, choose your battles. Don’t whine, and don’t be the one who complains about everything. Fight the big fight.”

28. 26. Jenji Kohan, showrunner

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Known for: creating shows that showcase dynamic, interesting women such as Weeds and Orange Is the New Black

Best quote: “I’m always looking for those places where you can slam really disparate people up against one another, and they have to deal with each other. There are very few crossroads anymore. We talk about this country as this big melting pot, but it’s a mosaic. There’s all these pieces, they’re next to each other, they’re not necessarily mixing. And I’m looking for those spaces where people actually do mix.”

29. 27. Margaret Cho, comedian/actress

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Known for: starring in the first primetime sitcom based on the lives of an Asian-American family, advocating for gay and women’s rights

Best quote:“Ugly is irrelevant. It is an immeasurable insult to a woman, and then supposedly the worst crime you can commit as a woman. But ugly, as beautiful, is an illusion.”

30. 28. Nora Ephron, writer/director/screenwriter/author

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Known for: writing some of the most memorable romantic comedies of our time (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail), penning more than her fair share of poignant essays and books

Best quote: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

31. 29. Lorde, singer

Ernesto Distefano / Getty Entertainment Images

Known for: leading a legion of loyal teens…with her music; writing and singing the Grammy-winning album Pure Heroine; being hilarious on all forms of social media

Best quote: “I’ve totally learned in this process that 99% of the time, your gut is right, and you know what’s right for you. I know exactly what’s right for my career and for my art, and sometimes, even if the whole room is saying, ‘Don’t do that, don’t do that,’ you know that doing that is going to be good for you, in the long run.”

32. 30. Amy Poehler, actress/producer/screenwriter/author

Ilya S. Savenok / Stringer

Known for: being absolutely hilarious (Parks & Rec, Saturday Night Live, Mean Girls), founding girl-power website/YouTube channel Smart Girls at the Party, acting as the official other half of Tina Fey, authoring upcoming memoir Yes Please

Best quote: “I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody’s passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn’t mind leading.”

33. 31. Venus Williams 32. Serena Williams, professional tennis players

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Known for: winning a combined total of 24 Grand Slam titles, completely dominating their sport for more than a decade

Serena’s best quote: “I love who I am, and I encourage other people to love and embrace who they are. But it definitely wasn’t easy — it took me a while.”

Venus’ best quote: “I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest.”

34. 33. Diane Von Furstenberg, designer

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Known for: creating the iconic wrap dress, building a world famous designer label entirely from scratch

Best quote: “I wanted to be an independent woman, a woman who could pay for her bills, a woman who could run her own life — and I became that woman.”

35. 34. Maya Angelou, author/poet/actress

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Known for: inspiring a generation of young women to rise to their potential, authoring I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and many other books, memoirs, and poems

Best quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

36. 35. Ellen DeGeneres, host/actress

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Known for: hosting the hilarious Ellen DeGeneres Show, coming out on national television, advocating for gay rights and animal rights, voicing your favorite fish, Dory in Finding Nemo

Best quote: “Be kind to one another.”

37. 36. Meryl Streep, actress

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Known for: being the most superb actress of our time (she has been nominated for more Academy Awards than any other actor, male or female), advocating globally for women’s rights, taking an awesome selfie with Hillary Clinton

Best quote: “You just have to keep on doing what you do. It’s the lesson I get from my husband. He just says, ‘Keep going. Start by starting.’”

38. 37. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States

Kevin Winter / NBCUniversal / Getty Images

Known for: creating and heading up the “Let’s Move!” campaign, generally having impeccable style, being one badass First Lady

Best quote: “One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.”

39. 38. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO/author

Jun Sato / WireImage

Known for: keeping the world’s largest social network afloat, authoring international best-seller Lean In, serving as former Google executive

Best quote: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

40. 39. Ellen Page, actress/producer/activist

Jamie McCarthy / Getty

Known for: starring in a wide range of roles from Juno to Kitty Pryde, coming out at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive conference, advocating for LGBTQ rights

Best quote: “And I am here today because I am gay. And because maybe I can make a difference to help others have an easier and more hopeful time… What I have learned is that love — the beauty of it, the joy of it, and yes, even the pain of it — is the most incredible gift to give and to receive as a human being. And we deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame, and without compromise.”

41. 40. Barbra Streisand, singer/director/actress

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Known for: being one of the most baller singers ever; being one of the 12 EGOT winners; acting, directing, and starring in many a wonderful film

Best quote: “Men are allowed to have passion and commitment for their work… a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work.”

42. 41. Janet Mock, author/activist

Araya Diaz / Getty

Known for: authoring Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, advocating for the global trans community

Best quote: “Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power — not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.”

43. 42. Adele, singer

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Known for: writing 21, one of the most-epic breakup albums of the 21st century; generally giving no fucks about what is deemed ladylike behavior; setting fire to the rain

Best quote: “It’s never been an issue for me - I don’t want to go on a diet, I don’t want to eat a Caesar salad with no dressing, why would I do that? I ain’t got time for this, just be happy and don’t be stupid.”

44. 43. Kristen Wiig, screenwriter/actress/producer

Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty

Known for: creating some of Saturday Night Live’s most memorable characters (Penelope, Gilly, Target lady), writing and starring in Bridesmaids, constantly capitalizing on her impeccable comedic timing

Best quote: “If you’re creating anything at all, it’s really dangerous to care about what people think.”

45. 44. Sophia Amoruso, Nasty Gal CEO

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Known for: killin’ it as Nasty Gal’s CEO, famously turning her eBay store that sold vintage clothing into a $100 million business, authoring #GIRLBOSS

Best quote: “Bad bitches are taking over the world.”

46. 45. Taylor Swift, singer

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Known for: getting you through every breakup you’ve ever had, being one of the best-selling pop artists of all time, supporting the arts and music education

Best quote: “I have this really high priority on happiness and finding something to be happy about.”

47. 46. Diane Sawyer, broadcast journalist

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Known for: blazing the trail for female journalists on television, becoming the first female correspondent on 60 Minutes, kicking ass with grace and class

Best quote: “Whatever you want in life, other people are going to want it too. Believe in yourself enough to accept the idea that you have an equal right to it.”

48. 47. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actress/producer

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Known for: making us laugh for decades on end first as Elaine on Seinfeld, but most recently as Veep’s Selina Meyer, wearing glasses so well that we all feel like we need a pair, becoming one of the youngest female cast members in SNL history

Best quote: “I have no agenda except to be funny. Neither I nor the writers profess to offer any worldly wisdom.”

49. 48. Zooey Deschanel, actress/producer/HelloGiggles co-founder

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Known for: starring in and producing New Girl, co-founding female-friendly website HelloGiggles, being named Hollywood’s manic pixie dream girl, and then subverting that stereotype with her upfront, refreshing brand of feminism

Best quote: “I don’t know why femininity should be associated with weakness. Women should be free to express who they are without thinking, ‘I need to act like a man, or I need to tone it down to be successful.’ That’s a very good way to keep women down.”

50. 49. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author

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Known for: delivering one extremely badass TED talk on why we all should be feminists, having that talk sampled on Beyonce’s feminist anthem, “***Flawless,” authoring many exceptional novels such as Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun

Best quote: “It is easy to romanticize poverty, to see poor people as inherently lacking agency and will. It is easy to strip them of human dignity, to reduce them to objects of pity. This has never been clearer than in the view of Africa from the American media, in which we are shown poverty and conflicts without any context.”

51. 50. Kerry Washington, actress

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Known for: breaking your heart and then putting it back together every Thursday as the all-powerful Olivia Pope on Scandal, advocating for women’s rights globally, having the best line in Save the Last Dance, “Slammin’ outfit”

Best quote: “We need to be willing to be uncomfortable, to be flawed, to be imperfect, to own our voice, to step into our light, so that we can continue to inspire other people and employ other people, and make room for more and more voices and presence.”

52. 51. Hillary Clinton, politician/former First Lady/former U.S. Senator/ former Secretary of State

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Known for: probably becoming the 45th President of the United States, traveling to 112 countries during her time as Secretary of State (more than any other SoS), serving as a senator for New York, authoring two memoirs

Best quote: “I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century.”

So, who’s on your list?

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