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The Badass 50 

Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up and get things done.
Jun 26, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

Last summer, President Trump announced a ban on transgender people in the military. It was then, as it is now, both nonsensical and prejudicial. After I heard the news, I was furious, so I asked my features team to find a transgender woman serving in the military and profile her for the magazine. My editors wanted to focus on a U.S. Army captain named, yes, Jennifer Peace. Peace joined the military when she was 19 and has served our country for 13 years. She is a married mother of three and has participated in every war of her generation. The first thing I thought was, “Damn, what a badass.” With that, we decided to launch an ongoing Badass Women series, celebrating those who are brave, brilliant, and, most important, consistent. And now I’m so proud to release the first Badass Women issue of InStyle. History is filled with women who have changed the world with a singular or daring act, but it’s those who keep going— with or without recognition—whom I really admire. This entire issue honors spectacular women. All they have to do—and all we have to do—is keep showing up. —Laura Brown, InStyle Editor in Chief

1. Emma González: Her passionate speech after a gunman opened fire at her school in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 students and faculty, inspired a worldwide cry for gun reform in America. Since then she and her peers have taken on the powerful NRA, uniting their generation to push for stricter regulations.

2. Katie Couric: As one of the most trusted faces in news and the first woman to assume a solo role on a nightly news desk, Couric is a journalistic icon for everyone seeking the truth. “I think a badass woman stands up for herself, is confident, and is not afraid to challenge the hierarchy, the patriarchy, or conventional thinking,” she says. For Katie Couric's full story, click here.

3. The Women of Time’s Up: Though Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes, and Eva Longoria are among the Hollywood power players giving a public face to the anti-harassment movement, this is not just a red-carpet issue. It crosses all industries, top to bottom, and encompasses everyone who is part of the fight.

4. Jane Goodall: The spotlight was back on the legendary primatologist and anthropologist last year due to the incredibly moving documentary Jane, which chronicled her early years studying chimpanzees in Tanzania. Through the Jane Goodall Institute, she is working with youngsters around the world to help them develop compassion and respect for all living things.

5. Patty Jenkins: Last summer her big-screen Wonder Woman broke the record for the highest-grossing film directed by a woman. This year Jenkins is breaking records again, reportedly earning more than triple her original salary for the film’s sequel. As her profile continues to rise, so do the fortunes of up-and-coming female directors everywhere.

6. Saru Jayaraman: Shortly after 9/11, this legal activist banded together with displaced restaurant workers to co-found the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) to help them fight for their rights. “Women of color are often labeled a bitch or difficult,” she says. “If what that really means is standing up for yourself and others, then I accept those labels with pride.” For Saru Jayaraman's full story, click here.

7. Channing Dungey: She became president of ABC Entertainment Group in 2016, making her the first black woman to serve in that capacity for a major broadcast TV network. Dungey helped develop hit shows like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, but it was her quick decision to cancel the Roseanne reboot following a racist tweet from the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, that really drew raves.

8. Janet Mock: The outspoken activist and best-selling author recently became the first trans woman of color to write, direct, and produce for television on the 1980s New York City–set FX series Pose. “The greatest advice I can give anyone is don’t be afraid of change,” Mock says. “There’s such room for growth and greatness when you’re able to lean into fear.” Fore Janet Mock's full story, click here.

Saru Jayaraman. Photographed by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images

9. Maura Healey: Since President Donald Trump’s election, the Massachusetts attorney general has legally challenged the administration more than two dozen times, diligently protecting her community against policies that could limit civil and immigration rights, access to health care, environmental safeguards, and more. “As attorney general, if I won’t stand up for the Constitution and against the abuse of power, then who will?” she asks. “No one’s above the law in this country, not even the president.”

10. Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey: The world is a very different place thanks to these two tireless New York Times reporters. Kantor and Twohey's groundbreaking work on the Harvey Weinstein sexual-harassment scandal not only propelled the #MeToo movement but also earned them a Pulitzer Prize.

11. J.K. Rowling: Before she created Harry Potter, the best-selling series in publishing history, Rowling was a single mother who struggled to make ends meet. Now reportedly one of the wealthiest self-made women in the world, she uses her platform to call for change. On Twitter she regularly sounds off on topics like Brexit and President Trump.

12. Sherrie Westin: The president of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop advises leaders to be optimistic and “relentlessly bullish.” Her career highlights include aiding Syrian refugee children and advocating for the development of Sesame Street’s first autistic Muppet, Julia. “By reaching children who have no other means of quality education, we can plant the seeds for societal change,” she says.

13. Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez: In 2007 the baker founded Hot Bread Kitchen in East Harlem to teach low-income and immigrant women how to make bread. Now she employs women from all over the globe. “Most manufacturing places are dominated by one gender and one language,” she says. “But at Hot Bread you’re just as likely to hear Spanish, Arabic, or French as you are English. That, to me, is what this country is really about.”

14. Nice Nailantei Leng’ete: At age 8, Leng’ete escaped female genital mutilation and child marriage in Kenya. Today the activist has helped around 15,000 other girls do the same. “I have seen pain,” she says. “I have seen girls leave school, bleed, die, or be married off. They need to have rights to their own bodies. And I don’t have to wait for someone else to make change.”

15. Tammie Jo Shults: A former Navy fighter pilot, the Southwest Airlines captain was hailed as a national hero in April when she safely landed a damaged aircraft in Philadelphia, saving the lives of 148 people.

16. Gloria Steinem: She is the OG. At 84, this writer, political activist, feminist organizer, and co-founder of Ms. magazine remains a trailblazer who has given us countless words of wisdom. Among them: “Don’t think about making women fit
the world—think about making the world fit women.”

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Katie Couric. Courtesy Katie Couric.

17. Hannah Key: As if battling wildfires in her home state of California weren’t enough, this firefighter is also cutting through red tape to make equipment less cumbersome for women. “We don’t need to look good on the line; we need to be safe,” she says. “My gear shouldn’t make me bleed simply because of the way it’s made. I have a lot of work to do to get this project off the ground, but I have time, and I am not going anywhere.”

18. Mandy Manning: The Teacher of the Year for 2018, who teaches English to teen immigrants and refugees in Spokane, Wash., took advantage of a brief meeting at the White House with the president. Displaying “Women’s March” and “Trans Equality” pins prominently on her dress, she reportedly passed along letters from her students describing what living in America means to them.

19. Victoria Mahoney: Ava Duvernay put forth her good friend Mahoney’s name to work as J.J. Abrams’s second-unit director on Star Wars IX, the first African-American woman on the series in that role. But Mahoney’s success has not been without its challenges. “No joke: I recently sat with a huge studio exec who couldn’t believe I actually knew how to throw a baseball,” she says. “In that moment I understood why Hollywood hiring practices are still stuck in the Mesozoic Era.”

20. Christiane Amanpour: The British-born journalist is one of the most well-known and respected international correspondents in the world. Amanpour has ventured into the heart of global trouble spots, from war-torn Afghanistan to Hurricane Katrina-devastated New Orleans. “It’s about rebalancing the scales,” she says. “It’s not about women taking over the world. It’s about women having an equal place in the world.” For Christiane Amanpour's full story, click here.

21. Meika Hollender: To encourage women to #getontop of their sexual and reproductive health, the entrepreneur launched Sustain Natural, a company that develops all-natural products, including tampons, pads, condoms, and lubricants. “I’ve had a lot of doors closed in my face because of what I make and sell, but I’m crushing it,” she says. “The ears on the pussy hat have perked up. People are ready to listen, learn, and focus on their health and wellness.”

22. Stephanie Sinclair: Inspired by girls she met while working on a story in Afghanistan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist helped launch the nonprofit Too Young to Wed, which aims to protect girls’ rights and ban child marriage. “If we step up to the challenge, these girls are going to be the badass women who, in turn, will support one another the way we’ve supported them.”

23. Constance Wu: The star of this summer’s Crazy Rich Asians is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, gun control, and busting Asian stereotypes in the media.

Janet Mock. Photographed by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic. 

24. Orla Doherty: While making BBC America’s Blue Planet II, the filmmaker spent 500 hours underwater shooting never-before-seen footage that is changing the way scientists understand our oceans. “I’m most proud that we captured the profound beauty of life in the deep ocean,” she says. “That was something I was striving for from the very beginning.”

25. Madeleine Albright: It would be enough that this immigrant from the former Czechoslovakia was the first woman to become the U.S. secretary of state (under President Bill Clinton, in 1998). But at 81, this businesswoman and professor remains an unwavering defender of our country’s values. Her most recent book, Fascism: A Warning, was a best-seller when it was published in April.

26. Mika Brzezinski: She may co-host Morning Joe with on- and off-screen partner Joe Scarborough, but there’s no arguing that Brzezinski’s pluck is the real jolt of caffeine on MSNBC. When’s she’s not calling out misogynistic politicians and public figures, she’s helping women close the gender pay gap.

27. The Women of the ACLU: These crusaders work tirelessly to uphold constitutional freedoms regardless of race, beliefs, and sexual orientation. “In policy, you don’t have to convince a judge that your solution is the right one; you have to convince hundreds of lawmakers, interest groups, and, ultimately, the public,” legislative counsel for the ACLU Neema Singh Guliani has said.

28. Sharon Richardson: An abusive relationship unjustly landed Richardson in prison for 20 years. Following her release, she founded the empowerment-focused Reentry Rocks and opened a catering business, Just-Soul Catering, where she’s employed only former female inmates. “One of the biggest barriers faced by women who were incarcerated is they can’t get a job,” she says. “So we hire them and help them move forward.”

29. Tammy Duckworth: The veteran and Illinois senator who lost both her legs in the Iraq War is no stranger to defying all odds and knocking down barriers for women, as she did in April when she became the first U.S. senator to give birth while serving in office. “I’ve been able to do more than I ever thought I was capable of not because I was smarter, stronger, or faster than anyone else—it’s how I’ve responded to hardship and failure that’s defined me,” she says. For Tammy Duckworth's full story, click here.

Christiane Amanpour. Photographed by Donna Svennevik/Getty Images. 

30. Margaret Atwood: With over 60 books to her name, the Canadian poet and novelist has explored climate change, religion, and gender roles. Atwood was back in the spotlight last year after Hulu adapted The Handmaid’s Tale, her 1985 best-selling dystopian novel, into a television series that took home eight Emmys and rallied feminists everywhere.

31. Cardi B: It’s not just because of her money moves. Instagram turned former stripper Belcalis Almanzar into a superstar. Today this Bronx-born singer-rapper is one of the most original unfiltered performers, using her platform to, yes, do crazy things but also teach fans about issues like gun control and immigration.

32. Karen Leibowitz: In April the San Francisco-based restaurateur and agriculture advocate partnered with graphic designer Kelli Anderson and the female-focused food magazine Cherry Bombe to create a sexual-harassment-prevention poster for restaurants. “We’re past the initial phase of #MeToo,” she says. “Now we can move from expressing outrage to building a work environment we want to see.”

33. Kamala Harris: California’s former attorney general and current junior senator is one of the leading voices on the Hill, speaking out on immigration and environmental issues. Last year she introduced a bill to make revenge porn a federal crime, prompting Ellen DeGeneres to declare her “possibly your next president of the United States.”

34. Julie Castle: She has swiftly risen through the ranks of the Best Friends Animal Society from employee No. 17 to CEO. She hopes to make America a no-kill animal-shelter nation by 2025. “Do something every day that scares the shit out of you,” she says. “That gives me the courage to stand up for stuff when it’s not very popular.”

35. Ellen Stofan: After working her way up the hierarchy at NASA and spending three years as chief scientist in charge of plans for sending humans to Mars, Dr. Stofan has been tapped as the first female director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., a position once held by Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins.

36. Stephanie Ruhle: This banker-turned-news anchor for NBC and MSNBC has made a name for herself with unapologetic, smart commentary on some of our nation’s most pressing issues. “A badass woman doesn’t have to be a superwoman throwing a car across the street,” she says. “It’s about integrity. People confuse integrity with this idea of a high moral standing. I think integrity is saying you’re going to do something and doing it.”

37. Emma Watson: The actress has consistently fought for women’s rights and education from the beginning of her career. As a United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador, she introduced the world to the HeForShe campaign, which invites all genders to step up for equality, a mission she now continues through her work with Time’s Up.

Tammy Duckworth. Photographed by CQ Roll Call/AP Images.

38. Lisa Borders: As president of the WNBA, which has experienced record-breaking attendance since she took over in 2016, Borders has made elevating and celebrating the women of basketball her top priority. She has a background in politics—having run for mayor of Atlanta and co-founded the nonprofit No Labels, which addresses political and social issues in a nonpartisan manner—and also works with the #SeeHer initiative, which attempts to accurately portray women in the media.

39. Lauren Dasse: As executive director of the nonprofit Florence Project, the attorney provides free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children detained in Arizona. Most recently she’s spoken out against the government’s rounding up young immigrants, herding them “like cattle,” and separating them from their families for processing by officials along the Mexican border.

40. Cindy Sherman: One of the most influential contemporary artists of our time, Sherman is known for her conceptual self-portraits posed in various costumes that offer critical commentary on sexual stereotypes and social constructions. Her fearless approach to expression is undeniably unique.

41. Pretty Yende: At age 16, the South African soprano traded her ambition to be an accountant for curtain calls. Now she is commanding the world’s biggest stages. “I never thought anyone who looked like me could learn [opera] and inspire other girls to do the same, but the color of my skin doesn’t matter,” she says. “The pure joy of singing and breaking boundaries while sharing it makes me the most proud.”

42. Parisa Tabriz: The self-proclaimed Princess of Security is in charge of privacy and engineering for the Google Chrome browser. “Chrome is broadly recognized as the most secure Web browser,” she says. “I credit my team’s hard work, but keeping billions of people safe as they use the Web is definitely my proudest achievement.”

Emma Watson. Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

43. Hayley Kiyoko: Hailed as the Lesbian Jesus by her fans, the actress-turned-pop sensation is idolized for expressing her sexuality in her self-directed music videos. “I think a badass woman has relentless drive and undeniable confidence in herself and where she wants to end up,” she says.

44. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Supreme Court associate justice has championed gender equality and women’s rights throughout her career, beginning by launching the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU in the 1970s. Most recently she spoke out in support of the #MeToo movement and is the subject of the hit documentary RBG.

45. Ami Vitale: The photographer and filmmaker raises awareness about the women working to protect endangered wildlife all over the globe. “Empathy and earning trust are the most important tools we have,” she says. “Being kind and strong are not exclusive to each other.”

46. Anita Hill: Though Clarence Thomas, whom she accused of sexual harassment in 1991, was still appointed to the Supreme Court, this attorney and law professor’s honesty and candor left a lasting impression. Now she’s chair of the entertainment industry’s Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equity in the Workplace.

47. Daniela Vega: The actress’s lead role in 2017’s A Fantastic Woman helped earn Chile its first Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Vega continues to make history, becoming the first transgender woman to present an award at the Oscars and landing a spot on Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

48. Jennifer Baumgardner: The activist is best known for her contributions to third-wave feminism as publisher of The Feminist Press. She has now launched Dottir Press, is founder of the speakers’ bureau Soapbox Inc., and is editor in chief of the Women’s Review of Books. “A badass woman doesn’t wait for people to ask her to do something or notice how great she is,” she says. “She starts her project, takes up space, or raises her hand because she doesn’t have to wait for an invitation.”

49. Natasha Lamb: As director of equity research and shareholder engagement at Arjuna Capital, this managing partner has persuaded 21 major companies, like Amazon, Apple, and Nike, to commit to closing their gender pay gaps.

50. Leslie Jones: A comedian, actress, and occasional Olympic Games commentator, this SNL cast member and Ghostbusters star often takes to social media to share her sharp cultural commentary. Topics range from RuPaul’s Drag Race to defending the distinction between free speech and hate speech.

For more stories like this, pick up the August issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download July 6.