Behind Every Great Man YKTTW Discussion

Behind Every Great Man
An influential man takes the credit for a woman's work.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-09-26 15:18:56 sponsor: lilliterra edited by: Antigone3 (last reply: 2013-06-14 10:38:08)

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Suggested indexes: Double Standard, Always Female

This trope is about a man who is credited with something important. He could be a noted scientist, a great scholar, a famous artist; regardless, everybody who's anybody knows his name.

The only thing is, he's not the one who's doing it. Someone else is. And "someone else" is a woman. Maybe it's his wife, maybe it's his sister or his cousin. Whoever she is, he's getting the credit for her work.

Most often, this is because the woman has some reason not to want her name attached to the work. Maybe her writings, art, or scientific discoveries would never be taken seriously if people knew that a woman was behind them. Given a choice between her work being ignored and having it claimed by another, she might choose to let a male claim the credit. Sometimes she's happy that she doesn't have to occupy the spotlight, and can work in peace without the paparazzi her puppet usually takes in stride. Other times she is jealous, and bitter about the fact that she cannot simply step forward and claim her work as her own.

This trope is fairly common in historical fiction and seems to have a feminist undertone more often than not. It can sometimes be the result of Heir Club for Men, when the male heir turns out to be incompetent and his wife/mother/sister can't take over running the kingdom openly.

Please note that this trope is specifically for cases where a woman cannot claim credit for her own work because she is a woman. Situations where a man claims credit for his assistant's work, but the assistant just happens to be female, would go under The Man Behind the Man.

Related to Moustache de Plume, where the masculine "front" identity is fictional. Never a Self-Made Woman gives us the reverse situation (a famed woman is that way because of a male connection) but has a lot of the same underlying assumptions. Lady Macbeth may be (but doesn't have to be) an example.


  • In Barton Fink WP Mayhew is a drunken burnout whose scripts are all ghostwritten by his mistress Audrey Taylor.
  • In Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Julie is strongly suggested to be the true composer of her late husband's last work, Song For the Unification of Europe.
  • The Stepford Wives: The town mayor is leading the task of remaking all the women in the city. The mayor himself is a cyborg, created by his wife, who feels ambitious women ruin a marriage.

Live Action Television
  • Warehouse 13: Helena G. Wells is actually the one responsible for writing War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, but she gives her brother the credit so that she can work on her scientific endeavors in peace.
  • In the final episode of Arrested Development it is revealed that Lucille was behind the Bluth Company all along, not George Sr.
  • Remington Steele: Laura Holt opens her own Private Detective agency, but nobody will hire a female detective. She invents a boss "Remington Steele" and puts his name on the company. Then a conman swoops in and pretends to actually be Steele.
  • In the first series of Blackadder it's strongly implied that the queen is actually manipulating things behind the scenes using witchcraft, so she's the one in power rather than her husband Richard IV.

  • The Fire Rose: At one point, Rose thinks back to a fellow student who had both courted her and stolen her research paper (instead of doing the coursework himself). She wondered at the time if it would really be so bad to let her husband present her research as his own. It ends up a moot point as the student in question was only interested in her father's money; when the money was lost to a scammer, the student dumped Rose.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire;
    • Cersei is the Queen Regent when her son is on the throne, but it's an open secret that she's the one running the show.
    • Olenna Tyrell, Mace Tyrell's elderly mother, is strongly implied to be the real brains in Highgarden.
  • In The Pillars of the Earth, Aliena is driven by ambition to regain her family's power and vengeance against the people who took it (and killed their father), but frequently has to use her meek and timid brother William to do it because people won't listen to her alone.
  • In Maupassant's novel Bel Ami, Mme. Forestier actually writes the articles published by her journalist husband, and starts doing the same for the Villain Protagonist Duroy after he's hired by her husband and seeks her help. Following M. Forrestier's death, she marries Duroy and continues to do a lot for him behind the scenes, even as he becomes increasingly smug about his own abilities.
  • One Agatha Christie novel had a chemist whose wife was murdered. The chemist was later kidnapped by a rich millionaire who wanted a monopoly over the greatest scientific minds in the world (in exchange for giving them a place where their genius would not be limited by lack of funds or political alignment). Unfortunately, it turns out the chemist isn't producing anything because the brilliant discovery (that got him kidnapped in the first place) was actually his wife's work, and he murdered her to take the credit for it.
  • In Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible, Daphne is a translator of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Her brother pretends he's the one translating for proprieties' sake. This backfires horribly when he is kidnapped for his translating skills, and has absolutely no clue.

  • In the NoŽl Coward play Nude With Violin recently deceased modern artist Paul Sorodin admits in his will that he never painted anything - instead he claimed credit for works by two mistresses and a (male) Jamaican Seventh-Day Adventist.

Western Animation
  • The Powerpuff Girls: The Mayor of Townsville had Ms. Sara Bellum who true to her Punny Name was clearly the brains behind the duo.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons Marge discovers that she has a knack for handyman-ing but nobody will hire a female handyman, so she uses Homer as her "beard"; she does the work and he gets the credit.
  • In Inspector Gadget, Gadget's niece Penny is the one who actually solves the cases.

Real Life
  • After Woodrow Wilson's stroke, his wife Edith is commonly thought to have invoked this trope. All she would ever admit to was sorting matters into "worth bothering Woodrow about" and "let it wait", and summarizing documents in the first category so Woodrow wouldn't have to read them himself. And maybe she didn't make decisions as if she were President; but by controlling the flow of information to and from him, she had a lot of control over Presidential decisions.
  • Walter Keane was widely known for his paintings of large-eyed children ... that had been painted by his wife Margaret. The Other Wiki claims that Walter locked Margaret in a room and forced her to paint pictures that he then sold under his name. After a "paint-off" in court in the 1980s, a federal judge ruled that Margaret had the rights to those paintings.
  • Almost happened to Marie Curie. The original nomination for the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics just named Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel. Pierre filed a complaint about the committee leaving Marie's important work out. Marie's name was added to the Nobel Prize award.

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