I carry HK 45 compacts and they do not feel as heavy as my fully loaded (17 rounds of 147gr HP's) M&P 9mm. For men the in the waistband or belt holster is the norm and a Kahr CM9 carries great and does not cost much. They are very simple to operate in a stress-full situation and have controllable recoil. I find that these work equally well for women and men to carry. but they are not a target gun that you want to shoot every day due to the smaller grip and long trigger pull.
the M&P compacts are also very nice but are a bit bigger than most women like to carry in a purse or bag.
You could also look at the J-Frame revolvers from S&W or the Ruger LCR. 38 special is all that is necessary. The 357 versions greatly increase recoil (when shot with 357 mag ammo of course) but in my testing there is no real velocity advantage out of their 1.8" barrel when compared to 38+P's
"A free people ought to be armed" George Washington 1790
‘For those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor safety.’ —Ben Franklin.”