As young girls growing up before social media expanded our worldview, we were supposed to aspire to be ballerinas, singers, mothers, teachers, and princesses. Now we know there are so many more options for strong women out there including a career as a special agent. Be it a police officer, detective, private investigator, FBI/CIA agent, or member of a secret society that’s not exactly recognized by the government, we’ve got options, ladies.

That’s right, it’s not just hot dudes running around saving everyone. Women are just as capable of catching the bad guys (and gals!) and look good doing it. Although the media often portrays boss females as villains, that’s far from the truth for these inspiring ladies. Who needs a man when you could have one of these bad ass women as your sidekick?

1. Kate Beckett, Castle

Would a novelist ever really be allowed to tag along with a New York City homicide detective? Though the premise may be doubtful, Castle is entertaining and Kate Beckett is a gem. Naturally, after spending time together in intense situations that somehow still allow room for witty flirtation, she ends up falling in love with Rick Castle. Beckett is a particularly dedicated detective due to the circumstances of her past, as her mother was the victim of an unsolved murder years prior.

2. Emily Prentiss, Criminal Minds

Emily Prentiss is well-traveled, fluent in multiple languages, and strong as hell. Not only is she currently an FBI agent, she used to be an undercover international spy. Faking her own death to escape from arms dealer and former assignment/lover Ian Doyle was so upsetting, I don’t know how JJ was able to keep it a secret.

It took me way too many episodes before realizing Prentiss, played by Paget Brewster, is also Kathy on Friends — initially Joey’s girlfriend until Chandler falls in love with her (and is a much better match) — but it made me love Prentiss even more.

3. Gracie Hart, Miss Congeniality

The FBI version of a high school makeover movie: a hardened agent is turned into a pageant participant through dieting, walking (or shall I say “gliding”) lessons, and liberal use of hairspray. Gracie Hart protects the entire lineup of pageant girls while continuing to stand up for feminism. She’s also an excellent water glass musician; fellow agent Eric Matthews was an idiot to dump her.

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4. Sam Fuller, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

While it can’t quite hold a candle to Miss Congeniality, this sequel actually doesn’t totally suck. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell, but hearing Sam Fuller let down her walls and open up to Gracie Hart provides all the feels. Fuller initially refuses to put up with any of Hart’s crap, but over the course of the case the two women become fast friends — and put on a hell of a performance at a Las Vegas drag show.

5. Sara Ellis, White Collar

Okay, Sara Ellis is an insurance investigator, not a typical detective… but still, she has “investigator” in her title so we’ll allow it. She uses a gun and chases criminals and is still an all-around bad ass. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to have a trusting relationship with criminal mastermind (and ridiculously attractive) Neal Caffrey, but Sara manages it. In my mind, the proposal on the Empire State Building was real and the two of them got married and ran away together.

6. Elizabeth Keen, The Blacklist

Elizabeth Keen is an incredible FBI agent, even when she’s married to a dangerous spy, running from the U.S. government for killing the Attorney General, pregnant, intentionally re-marrying said dangerous spy, and a new mother. For awhile I wanted her to end up with Donald Ressler, but getting back together with Tom is even better. However, I could not handle the uncertain circumstances of her relationship with Reddington — he’s always 10 steps ahead and you’re never 100% positive he has the FBI’s best interests at heart.

7. Fox, Wanted

I chose to call out Angelina Jolie for her role as secret society agent Fox in Wanted instead of Jane Smith in Mr. & Mrs. Smith because I prefer movies that didn’t cause the leading characters to cheat on their significant others. Even though most of the gun action in this movie defies the laws of physics, Fox still looks hella impressive doing it. How many of her tattoos are Angelina Jolie’s real ones?

8. Aly Nelson, New Girl

In true sitcom style, in which characters either date their roommates or their coworkers, New Girl covers both. Aly Nelson starts out as Winston Bishop’s partner on the police force, but he soon falls prey to her charms and they begin dating and wind up getting engaged. Though you don’t see much of her on the job, Aly is clearly tough as nails, and an incredible sport for putting up with all of Winston’s well-intentioned but poorly executed pranks.

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9. Sameen Shaw, Person of Interest

Sameen Shaw is introduced to Person of Interest as a number Finch and Reese are trying to save. Shaw abandons her role as a special agent for the U.S. government once they attempt to execute her on the job, and she joins forces with the vigilante crew to prevent dangerous crimes in New York City one social security number at a time. Her dry sense of humor and distaste for displays of affection make her genuine smile even more of a treat.

10. Cooper, Hot Pursuit

TBH the roles of a buttoned up, plays-by-the-rules police officer and an outgoing drug lord widow seem to fit Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara pretty well. Of course, Cooper and Danielle Riva end up bonding more than Cooper expected, and Danielle even convinces her to let her hair down a bit. Cops usually become besties with their charges, right?

11. Mullins, The Heat

Another movie featuring two strong female characters of opposing personalities who end up forming an unbreakable bond, except this time they’re both cops. Since Sandra Bullock is already on this list (see #3), we’ll focus on Melissa McCarthy. Mullins is a hard ass, my-way-or-the-highway police officer who follows her own (slightly unorthodox) rules but still gets the job done. Watching her butt heads with Ashburn is quite entertaining.

12. Lana Kane, Archer

Never has a sweater dress looked hotter than on cartoon character, Lana Kane. She might be a fool for falling for Archer again and again, especially when Cyril Figgis offers more stability (and loyalty), but she’s a fool with muscles — and large hands, as is often the butt of Archer’s jokes. She becomes a MILF by using Archer’s frozen sperm and tries to turn him into a respectable father. Aisha Tyler is also a Friends character who dates two of the boys — as Charlie Wheeler, she starts out with Joey and then transitions to Ross.

13. Jessica Jones, Jessica Jones

In this Netflix original, Jessica Jones is a former superhero who becomes a private investigator. The show is praised for depicting a female in the overwhelmingly male superhero market who wears reasonable clothing and is as complex as the men. Adapted from the Marvel universe, Jessica Jones is an aggressive, no-nonsense badass. Krysten Ritter looks great in black, walking a fine line between hipster and punk that residents of Brooklyn can only dream of.

14. Maya, Zero Dark Thirty

Inspired by the true story of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden resulting in his death by Navy SEAL Team 6, Zero Dark Thirty stars Jessica Chastain as CIA agent, Maya. The eventual success of the search for bin Laden is due to Maya’s dedication and unwillingness to stand down, even as a female agent with a ton of skepticism on her. Can anyone tell me how I can dye my hair to look as flawless as hers?

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15. Beyoncé, If I Were a Boy

This is a song and not a movie or TV show, but if you haven’t already watched the music video, do so immediately. It’s incredible. Beyoncé would clearly make a badass cop, even if her relationship with her hot male partner is questionable. I won’t give away the twist at the end, but if you don’t already love this song, then the music video will make you.

16. Veronica Mars, Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars might not be a licensed detective, but the teenager puts her personal private investigation skills to the test after her best friend is murdered and her father loses his position as county sheriff. After three seasons on television, Kristen Bell reprised her role in a Warner Bros. film version, taking Veronica Mars back to her hometown for a high school reunion and, not-so-coincidentally, a murder investigation.

17. Temperance Brennan, Bones

Temperance Brennan technically isn’t an agent, she’s a forensic anthropologist, but she consults directly with the FBI, specifically special agent Seeley Booth—who nicknames her “Bones”—so it’s close enough.

Bones has a complicated past due to her parents’ criminal involvements, and she can be socially awkward at times, which is what led her to pursue science in the first place. As expected, Bones and Booth fall in love, get married, and start a family. In my (likely unpopular) opinion, Emily Deschanel is the only tolerable Deschanel sister.

18., 19., 20. Natalie Cook, Dylan Sanders, Alex Munday, Charlie’s Angels

Sure, it’s semi offensive how often Charlie’s Angels resort to their sex appeal as a tool of the trade, but they’re still pretty sick spies. Natalie Cook, Dylan Sanders, and Alex Munday all rule the world of espionage as agents reporting to the mysterious Charlie, who reminds me of Oz from Wizard of Oz—great and powerful, but never seen. Who else used to pose with finger guns as the Angels in junior high?

21. Olivia Benson, Law & Order: SVU

The most bad ass crime-fighting duo on all of television hisotry is also the hottest. I don’t know how Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson never hooked up (I mean, obviously his marriage had something to do with it), the chemistry between them is too strong to deny. She’s still a strong character opposite Christopher Meloni’s replacement, but I’d be quite happy to see him return to the show.

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