The television landscape is comprised of countless male leads from bumbling idiot to suave and smooth, and sometimes even undeniable badass, but more often than not they all have one thing in common: the damsel in distress as their love interest. Even after all the progress we have made as a society, and how it may have been showcased onscreen, female characters are arguably still written unquestionably one-dimensional. However, every once in a while, series write female characters that match up to their male counterparts (and sometimes even upstage them).
Perhaps they kick ass and take names or maybe they’re just independent and confident — either way, there’s no arguing that the following ladies in our list are perfect examples of badasses. Without further adieu, here are just eighteen badass females that have graced our television sets (in alphabetical order):
Cassie Blake, The Secret Circle
Okay maybe it was because she was the only person who could do magic by herself during the short-lived Secret Circle, but every time she used her solo “dark” magic, it was awesome. From throwing bleachers at her maybe-boyfriend Adam’s dad to digging herself out of her own grave to joining forces to kill her own father, every moment Cassie used her dark magic was just so badass. Plus, she saved her circle multiple times a week…and never even heard a “thank you.”
Temperance Brennan, Bones
Although her primary weapon is her remarkable intelligence, Brennan has also proven herself to be a feisty and fearless heroine. She never backs down in the face of danger (as much as Booth may want her to), and she has been known to punch powerful politicians, gang leaders, and serial killers rather than let them intimidate her. And she just became a mother, to boot.
Sydney Bristow, Alias
Sydney became the benchmark for every badass woman that came after her. And Jennifer Garner played her so well; we became obsessed with Garner because of this show. She went through hell — and was even presumed dead at one time — but she still kicked ass and saved the world from the bad guys. And even got a happy ending. Now that’s what we call badass.
Lisa Cuddy, House
This might be a strange choice, but we’re huge fans of Lisa Cuddy on House. It’s easy for people like Buffy or Sydney to come to mind, but those aren’t women who are exactly relatable. Cuddy is a great example of an extraordinary and badass woman who serves as a realistic role model to young women. She was one of the top students in her medical school. She’s Dean of Medicine, which puts her in charge of the entire hospital. Her troubles balancing her role as a single mother and her duties at work are ones real women face everyday. There’s actually a great episode (season 6, episode 14) where you see a day in her life and all the things she has to handle. We admire the amount of discipline and effort it takes to be someone in her position. She’s tough and she’s worked hard for everything she has and that makes her badass to us.
Olivia Dunham, Fringe
We’re not saying this because of all the powers she got recently. She’s just simply badass. She was an FBI agent, a job that is already hard to handle, and she was good at it. And then it all came down in the pilot, where all kinds of shit hit the fan: she discovered a whole new kind of science, her secret boyfriend/partner almost died, she went across the world to find a guy who could help her save him by releasing his father from a mental institution, found out her boyfriend was a traitor, which was all in vain because he died in her arms, and then she finally joins Fringe Division. And that is just one day at work. Not to mention what she had to go through when she found out about the Cortexiphan trials. But she can handle it; she’s strong, fierce, independent…and a badass.
Caroline Forbes, Bonnie Bennett, Katherine Pierce, The Vampire Diaries
Okay, so this is more of a three for one deal. Maybe that’s cheating; we’re sorry. Caroline started out an insecure neurotic cheerleader but then she became a vampire and transformed to a strong-willed and passionate about everything — about life. Caroline’s transformation from self-centered to the undead heartbeat of the Mystic Falls gang is supernatural in its impact. She saved herself and her friends multiple times, always staying loyal to them. And she helped Tyler embrace his curse when he couldn’t. And she’s not the only one; Bonnie has helped all of her friends survive as well. Hell, if it weren’t for Bonnie, no one in Mystic Falls would even be alive (let’s just be honest about that one). And when it comes to the show’s ultimate badass, that’s no one else than Katherine — pithy, bossy, and all around awesome. Multiple lenses exist to view The Vampire Diaries through — epic romance, multigenerational family drama, and eulogy for the departed and those living on the brink of death. But the one we recognize most often are the different routes to female empowerment embarked by these kick-ass women.
Captain Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek Voyager
Commander of a ship stuck halfway across a galaxy from home, leader of a patchwork crew consisting of traditional by-the-book officers, less than enthusiastic rebels, the occasional hitchhiking alien, and a holographic doctor, and lover of coffee, Captain Janeway rose above the the naysayers and proved that a woman can be as strong, powerful, and badass, as any of her male counterparts in the Star Trek universe. Over seven seasons, Janeway and her crew were thrown into impossible situations and threatened by the most dangerous aliens and villains Star Trek ever produced, while trying to find their way home. Her love for her crew, transformed them from a ragtag group of characters into a well-oiled family who respected and appreciated each other. Her compassion for her crew is one of her most admirable qualities, but her love did not make her weak. In fact, it was her love for these friends that drove her to be strong. She was not afraid of making hard decisions, punishing people for disobeying her orders, and was more than once willing to sacrifice herself and her ship for the greater good of the universe. She didn’t need to be motivated by romantic love, nor did she constantly need the men around her validating her decisions. Captain Janeway went against the Borg Queen face to face and won, saved various alien species, Voyager, Earth, and the whole of the Alpha Quadrant from annihilation, got her ship and crew across 75,000 light years of space to home, and upon their return, was made a Starfleet admiral. And she did all of this through intelligence, confidence, compassion, bravery, and good old determination. If this isn’t a badass woman, than we don’t know what is.
Lois Lane, Smallvile
She was sassy and witty, and yet she was the perfect woman for Superman because she was in fact a superwoman. She may have gotten herself in a few fights every once in a while, but we consider her a badass because she stood by her man and supported him and fought alongside him. Clark Kent couldn’t have become Superman without her.
Veronica Mars, Veronica Mars
She’s smart, sassy, determined, and relatable. That’s why Veronica is the perfect candidate, because everything she did was an act of badassery! After being ousted from an entire town, Veronica rose from the ashes and began to demand respect, rather than ask for it. And she did it all by herself, wielding smarts and personality as her weapons of choice — and winning out practically every, single time. Has there been a better role model from young women in the past decade? We think not!
Nikita Mears, Nikita
Nikita, from The CW’s Nikita, has only beat a drug addiction and stayed sober, escaped a black ops division of the government (pretentiously called Division), partnered up and infiltrated Division, took them down, killed their fearless leader, all while being captured and tortured and saving countless lives numerous times — and she’s now running the place. All in a day’s work. Not only is Nikita still emotionally intact, even though we’ve seen the depths of her darkness at times, but she’s still got a lot of fight left in her. Now that’s badass.
Peggy Olsen, Mad Men
Peggy Olsen on Mad Men is absolutely incredible. Unlike almost every other woman on the show, she doesn’t try to exploit or even emphasize her great looks. Her rise from secretary to copywriter made her the only woman on par with any man in the Sterling Cooper office. She works hard to keep up with her fellow male copywriters, letting her talent speak for itself. She’s ambitious and she’s not afraid to be assertive, qualities that were not expected of women in the ‘60s. Peggy Olsen is a badass ahead of her time.
Olivia Pope, Scandal
Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope is the woman everyone, even the United States government, goes to whenever there’s a crisis that needs damage control — and only the best kind of damage control. That’s because, while she may not always have everything together internally, Olivia Pope is one helluva badass and knows exactly how to handle every situation. There’s no question about it.
Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy is the epitome of badass. Sarah Michelle Gellar was born to play that role. We think we speak for many people when we say Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of those shows that came way before its time (hint, hint: TV’s newfound obsession with vampires and witches and things that go “boo!” in the dark). There’s no doubt about it that Buffy kicked some serious ass on a daily basis — sometimes twice, three times even. The girl saved the world from perishing how many times? She died twice for goodness sake and when she was brought back to life…post digging herself out of her own grave…she kept on fighting. Face it: Buffy’s a badass.
Emily Thorne (Amanda Clarke), Revenge
Revenge is sweet but no one quite serves it up as well as Emily Thorne, real name Amanda Clarke, does on ABC’s Revenge. After being separated from her father from a young age, who was framed for a terrorist attack, and then hearing of his death, Emily didn’t just get mad — she decided to get even. She spent years training, planning, and plotting to finally get the chance to exact her schemes on anyone who had anything to do with framing her father, and she’s kept a stoic, brave face while doing it too. There’s no stopping Emily, and we like that in our female characters.
Cara “Starbuck” Thrace, Battlestar Galactica
Honestly, we would love to nominate all the women of Battlestar Galactica since it is such an amazing gender-inclusive universe (a female president, admiral, ass-kicking robots, and so on), but since we can only choose one, it has to be Starbuck. Starbuck is the no-nonsense, tough as nails, top of her class Viper pilot. She always speaks her mind and doesn’t put up with anyone’s crap. She’s fiercely loyal to the people she cares about (in a non-romantic way…her relationships are another story). It is well known that she can out-fly any other pilot in the fleet.
Sarah Walker, Chuck
Strictly speaking, if looks could kill, then Chuck’s Sarah Walker would be deadly. But even though they can’t, Sarah is still a force to be reckoned with. She’s trained in over 200 ways to kill, is a pilot of many aviation ships, is a master of weaponry, and saved the lives of plenty together with Team Bartowski on a weekly basis. She may have been cold and stoic, but over the course of five seasons began to open up and become malleable (all thanks to falling in love with lead male Chuck). And Yvonne Strahovski played her beautifully — no one else could perfect the balance between super sexy spy, emotional wreck, and absolutely dangerous like she did, creating one of the most dynamic characters on TV as of late.
Those are just a few of our noted badass females on television. Which are some of your favorites?
Reporting by the entire NWN team. This article was originally printed in Swaave Magazine.