It Takes A Strong Woman

A dear friend, Jennifer Jacobson sent me a link to an article on a wonderful artist, Felice House. It’s her amazing work you see in this post. Her paintings and Evan Porter’s write up got me thinking more than usual about heroes and heroines.

We all love a strong, confident hero. The phrase alpha male comes to mind. When I started writing, I attended countless workshops on how to create a strong hero. But writing this, I paused and thought for a moment. How many workshops had I taken on how to create a self-assured, strong heroine? I’ve attended a few, though not nearly as many as ones on heroes. That thought led me to realize whether I’m reading a book or writing one, for me, the stronger the hero’s personality, the stronger the heroine must be. She can’t be a wimpy Missy Miss who crumbles under a strong wind or the hero’s stinging retort.

I want a heroine who doesn’t need a man in her life because she’s fine just the way she is, thank you very much. But should she find one, she believes he’s lucky to have her in his life. She has skills she’s proud of and helps the hero as much, often more, than he helps her. She’s not sitting back moping about the obstacles fate has thrown in her path. No, sir. Instead, she tugs on her big girl panties and develops a strategy to overcome her problems. And if the hero is one of those obstacles? He’d better watch out.

Felice House’s painting reminded me of that type of heroine. When House moved from Massachusetts to Texas, like many of us, she fell in love with “western” culture:  the clothes, cowboy boots, music, the whole thing. However, when she watched classic western movies starring actors such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and James Dean, she found women’s portrayal as helpless damsels in distress disturbing. House described the situation as “the empowered and the powerless.” Already familiar with creating work that fought stereotypical women’s images, House set out to re-envision these cowboy heroes with women.

As you can see from House’s paintings, she and her models succeeded in portraying woman every bit as formidable, compelling and fierce as the original actors. To add emphasis, House made the paintings 1.25 times larger than life to ensure these western women towered over people. These paintings portray images of strong, capable women who can handle anything life sends their way.

House’s paintings have inspired a 2019 goal for me—create heroines half as awe-inspiring, assertive, and frankly, badass as the women in Felice House’s paintings. If I can do that, I’ll be more than happy. 

Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment about what you think makes a compelling heroine to be entered to win a copy of To Catch A Texas Cowboy. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

To read Evan Porter’s article click here. All images of Felice House’s work are used with permission. To view more of her paintings click here.


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Julie Benson has written five novels for Harlequin American, and her Wishing, Texas series is available from Tule Publishing. Now that her three sons have left the nest in Dallas, when she isn't writing, Julie spends her time working on home improvement projects, rescuing dogs, and visiting Texas wineries with her husband. Visit her at

22 thoughts on “It Takes A Strong Woman”

  1. Felice House’s paintings are definitely a change from what we normally see. I like her style. I agree with what you say about having a strong heroine if you have a strong hero. It’s a great fantasy. But, sometimes I also like to read about some that are more relatable to myself. Those who may not be very strong and need a man.

    • Janine, thanks for your comment. What I like to do sometimes is write a heroine that’s been taking care of herself and those around her, but she’s tired of not having anyone to rely on. She weary of being strong. This appeals to me because I’ve been there at times in my life. I can take care of myself, but I don’t want to HAVE to. Does that make sense? That was the case in Roping the Rancher. Stacey, the heroine in that book was one of my favorites and it’s also got is my absolute favorite hero meeting. She’s heading to Estes Park, Colorado, to shoot a movie and is taking her teenage brother who need treatment for a brain injury and is going to the hero’s equestrian therapy ranch. She’s doing everything for everyone and is bone tired. Then to add insult to injury, she ends up in a ditch to avoid hitting cows on the road, slips in manure, looks up and there’s the hero.

      I think we as women often don’t realize our strength, because it’s a quieter strength. One that allows us to take care of others, work and keep our family’s lives running. Think of all the women taking care of children and aging parents. Think of teachers able to juggle the needs of twenty plus students. We never think of that as strength. I bet you are way stronger than you realize, and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Right now I’m not strong enough to handle this. Will you take over?” We’ve all done that a time or thirty.

      Thanks again for stopping by to talk. Have a great day!

    • Debra, thank you for your comment. It took me a long time to realize if I didn’t like myself, how could I like anyone else? It’s such a simple concept and yet, so difficult to put into practice. We’re all raised to be critical of ourselves. We strive for perfection and don’t realize that’s an unobtainable goal. As a recovering perfectionist, that’s a thing I’m still working on.

      Have a great day, Debra!

    • Portraying her caring nature is one of the hardest things to portray when I’ve got a heroine with a hard life backstory. It can be a tough balance to find when the heroine has to learn to trust again and fears getting hurt. Society is so quick to judge women as abrasive or label them the B word.

      Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  2. I do like to read about a strong heroine. I also think that it is important to show that there are times when you do need to be able to lean and trust others to help out.

    • Joy, that’s one of my favorite “lessons” to teach characters in a book–that while they can be strong, it’s not good to be that way at the expense of letting others into your life. None of us can handle everything on our own. Nor is it healthy to do so. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

    • Melanie, your comment made me think about some of the women I’ve know who were so strong they scared me. They were unapproachable. They buried their caring nature so deep that others suspected they suspected they didn’t care.

  3. I agree with many of your thoughts. I am married to a man who was a farmer for over 30 years and I was a farmer ALSO. Yes, we worked together milking cows but there were many times during harvest time when I milked them by myself. I raked hay, I baled hay and I helped unload it (during the time when the hay was square baled). I kiddingly told someone in later years that I wasn’t being very smart by wanting to do so much but my mind set was to prove that I could cope if I needed to. I also tried to be a woman who supported her husband and I believe that a truly strong woman knows her self-worth without being overly assertive. And please, wait until you are alone to correct or point out a man’s failings. I hae always hated someone belittling their spouse in public!
    Thanks for a great post and for sharing the art!

    • Connie, thank you for making the point about waiting to be alone to correct a man. I think that’s a great point for anyone. We’ve learned over the years how traumatic it can be for children to be corrected in front of the class, and I think it’s true with adults.

      Your comment about farming made me smile and think of my Grandma Walter. People don’t realize is a woman marries a farmer or a rancher, that’s her job, too. And if some task pulls her husband away at milking time, then the wife takes care of that chore on her own. I remember trotting after my grandmother and learning she worked every bit as hard as my grandfather. In some ways she worked harder because when they came in, he would often lay down or sit in his chair by the window, while she would see to the cooking and household chores. Thank you for stopping by and bringing up so many happy memories for me today!

  4. You dont need to enter me in the give a way. Thanks though.
    I so agree with your post today. I would love to read about a heroine like this.
    I agree with the movies. But there was a John Wayne/Katherine Hepburn movie where she was the strong one and she let him know it and he was not going to get the top rung. She was older, feisty and opinionated. Basically she was feminine yet ruled the roost. Ohhh, I cant think of the name. LOL it will probably come to me as I am climbing into bed. LOL

    • Lori, thank you for your comment. I bet the movie was Rooster Cogburn. I haven’t see that one, but I may have to put it on my to watch list! What’s ironic is the one painting I posted a picture of, the one where the woman is wearing an eye patch, is Felice House’s redo of the Rooster Cogburn/True Grit character!

  5. I love when there are larger than life heroines. The other half of that is when those heroines fall for a man and realize they CAN live with one and would love to have him in their life. We can be strong and still have a man take care of us!!

  6. A friend always told her daughters they could do anything they wanted for a career but always be a lady. Her youngest daughter, one of my daughters best friends, became a pen rider at a 40,000 head feedlot where she met her husband. Later she became a strong advocate for children with disabilities like her youngest son. Watching her grow and change through the years I felt she lived up to her mother’s admonition. To me she is a great model for a heroine.

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