“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