Behind every great man there's a great woman
What's the meaning of the phrase 'Behind every great man there's a great woman'?
'Behind every great man there's a great woman' has a straightforward literal meaning. The implication behind the saying is that the great woman is often ignored or taken for granted.
Origin - the short version
'Behind every great man there's a great woman' was adopted as a slogan for the 1960/70s feminist movement, first having been used in the 1940s.
Origin - the full story
The first printed citation I can find of 'Behind every great man there's a great woman' 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.
Times 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.