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The meaning and origin of the expression: Behind every great man there's a great woman

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Behind every great man there's a great woman

Meaning

Literal meaning.

Origin - the short version

Adopted as a slogan for the 1960/70s feminist movement, first having been used in the 1940s. Less used in more recent years as the imagery of women being behind men is open to misinterpretation.

Origin - the full story

The first printed citation I can find is from the Texas newspaper The Port Arthur News, from February 1946. This was headed - "Meryll Frost - 'Most courageous athlete of 1945'":

"As he received his trophy, the plucky quarterback unfolded the story of how he 'came back'. He said 'They say behind every great man there's a woman. While I'm not a great man, there's a great woman behind me.'"

The use of the phrase in that quotation suggests it was well-known at the time, and may be much older than 1945.

Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin - behind every great man there's a great womanTimes change and by the 1980s women no longer wanted to be standing behind, whether deemed great or not. The use of the phrase received a boost in 1985 with the release of The Eurythmics' song - Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves, but with a different emphasis from the earlier slogan:

Now, there was a time,
when they used to say,
that behind ev'ry great man,
there had to be a great woman.
But oh, in these times of change,
you know that it's no longer true.
So we're comin' out of the kitchen,
'cause there's something we forgot to say to you.
We say, Sisters are doin' it for themselves

It's not likely that Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox would have had much time for the opinions of the 18th century British statesman Lord George Lyttelton, in his poem Advice the a Lady, 1773:

Seek to be good, but aim not to be great;
A woman's noblest station is retreat.

See also: the List of Proverbs.