“Behind Every Great Man…”

“…is an empty glass of scotch.” N.F.

glass of whiskey on dark wooden background

Well, that’s my contribution to the growing list of “Behind every great man…” quote corrections. I’m not surprised this saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” was adopted as a slogan for the feminist movement because back in the 60’s, women were starting from scratch, from not being recognized at all for our work or contributions. But have we seriously not progressed to a better preposition yet?

Recently, James received a promotion at work. We work at the same location but in different offices. All day, people congratulated me on his promotion, and that was great! Both, and all, of our successes are wins for our family. I reveled in the praise for him and felt very proud of his accomplishments. I know my strengths and that I am a force in my own right at work, and I know people know that.


(You knew that was coming.)

However, my boss, a female half a generation older, said to me, “Congratulations to James! And to you, too, because as they say:

Behind every great man, there is a great woman!

I cringed.

I’ve been working for this lady for over two years now, and she is the happiest, most optimistic boss I’ve ever had. I hesitated for a full second before mumbling,

“Uhhh…I…uhhh…yeah. Okay, thank you.”

I wanted to yell at her. I wanted to say that I am not “behind” him, wilting in his shadow. I wanted to scream and accuse her of subtly reinforcing the mentality that our society subconsciously upholds on women. But I didn’t because I knew she didn’t mean it as an insult but as the compliment it used to be. It would have been rude to meet her praise with my personal distaste for a word choice.

I am very proud of my husband, but I like to think we are a team and that we support each other hand-in-hand, side-by-side, either of us shuffling wherever we need to go for the overall benefit of our family. And even though James doesn’t think of me as “behind” him, I love artist Rachel Wolchin’s quote in The Fameless, best:

Rachel Wolchin

“Behind every great man…” quote by Rachel Wolchin


I am very happy that our society is finally recognizing many of the women who were just as, or even more, brilliant, generous, educated, skilled as their husbands, bosses, or male counterparts. (I’m looking at you, Hidden Figures.) And even though that phrase is still floating around, we are definitely recognizing that the best way for all of us to succeed as a society is to work together, giving honor and recognition where it is due.

“Behind every great man is a host of mistakes he has learned from.” N.F.

Related reading: Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous by Marlene Wagman-Geller and the June 2017 OverDrive #BigLibraryRead selection The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

The Kind of Woman I Is

A couple of years ago, I had the literary pleasure of reading Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.  This very well-written novel is set in America before the Civil War and tells the story of three black women who  accompany their white masters annually to a luxurious resort in Ohio.  One year, a new girl arrives and she is a bit of a wild child.  Her fierce red hair is not braided down or otherwise tamed like “normal” black women, and the others find themselves often gossiping about her.  One day, someone asks her if she even knows how to braid, and her response was something like this (imagine hand on hip and a pointing finger),

“Of course I know how to braid!  What kind of woman you think I is?”

As crazy as it might sound, this really struck home with me.  There are a lot of things I know how to do now because I thought I was expected, as a black woman from the South, to know how to do.  I taught myself (with much advice and encouragement from my husband) how to cook as an adult because Southern women are supposedly good cooks.  In my 20’s, I joined a choir, did vocal warm ups, and practiced singing daily because all black women can sing, right?  A few years ago, I ditched the chemicals and became re-acquainted with my natural hair for several reasons, but one of the top five was that I did not want to be that black woman who doesn’t know how to do her own hair.

Woman washing and cleaning. Household series.

But does it really matter?  In the 21st century?  Does it still say what kind of woman you are based on what you can do?

This could go for any woman, regardless of race or ethnicity.  Does it matter now if you can sew or not?  Does it matter these days if you run an orderly household?

Many standards, and dare I say stereotypes, for woman have fortunately gone by the wayside, but many times I wonder if the desire to be that woman is still in us.  All women don’t want to be Bree Van de Kamp, but do all women have something that they deem a necessary skill they must accomplish as a personal sign of womanhood success?

I think it’s funny that Mawu (the wild child in Wench) found it so appalling to be accused of not knowing how to do hair, like that was the absolute simplest task and, duh, everyone knows how to do that.  I think the equivalent today would be if someone asked me if I knew how to…no, it’s the same.  I think if someone asked me today if I knew how to braid, I would respond the same way (even though I just learned).

Well, almost the same way.  I would definitely keep the hand on hip and pointed finger, but instead say, “What kind of woman do you think I am?”  🙂Urban Ethnic Girl With Attitude