Skill and wits, I can live with. But what about brute strength? How can a romance heroine possibly stand toe to toe with a man and still retain her femininity? Therein lies my dilemma.
These women all are doing what was considered to be a man's job. Bounty hunter, secret service agent, and rancher. All these occupations require a certain amount of physical activity and strength. Would a woman capable of doing these activities still be considered feminine and desirable by the opposite sex?
Maggie Osborne wrote quite a few of these types of heroines. Not only were they tough as nails, they were downright gritty. Two that immediately come to mind are Jenny from "The Promise of Jenny Jones" and Low Down (yep, that really was her name) in "Silver Lining." I enjoyed both of these books immensely, but these two heroines had an image problem, in my opinion. They were so very tough and gritty, they came across as rather manly and unattractive much of the time. (again, this is this reader's opinion) While this worked for Ms. Osborne, I'd rather not have a Calamity Jane type as my heroine. It just doesn't seem to mesh when you have a hero who's handsome as sin--especially when you toss the two together for the love scenes.
Anyway, I've been giving a lot of thought to these heroines lately. These gals are the types of characters I love to write. But can I pull them off, make them as tough as they need to be, and still retain their feminine believability as a romance heroine?
Which brings me to another example. Remember Sharon Stone's character in "The Quick and the Dead?" She was tough, and she was out for blood and vengeance. Yet there wasn't a manly bone in her body. I think the secret to her characterization was that she was very vulnerable, on the inside and in private. In public, she showed no weakness. But when she was alone and behind closed doors, her fear, her softer emotions and even her physical pain came out of hiding. She was just a regular woman after all, attempting to do something extraordinary in the world of men.
Edited to add: I just happened to remember... Since I mentioned "The Quick and the Dead," I can't end this without adding that the plot twist at the end of the movie was a direct rip-off from "Once Upon a Time in the West." Sharon Stone's character was a female version of the harmonica playing Charles Bronson. Same exact goal, motivation, and plot twist.