Created By: lilliterra on September 26, 2012 Last Edited By: Antigone3 on June 14, 2013
Troped

Behind Every Great Man

An influential man takes the credit for a woman's work.

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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.

Examples:

Film
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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.

Theater
  • In the Nol 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.

Community Feedback Replies: 48
  • September 26, 2012
    WolfgangAmadeusPenis
  • September 26, 2012
    lilliterra
    I don't really see how the first example is an inversion; and inversion would be a woman who is credited with something that is actually a man's doing. Maybe I should change the laconic description.

    The first straight example I was thinking of was in Warehouse13, where Helena G. Wells wrote War Of The Worlds and The Time Machine and let her brother take credit for them.
  • September 26, 2012
    TrollBrutal
    The Woman Behind The Man is a redirect, wouldn't this be covered by Tropes Are Flexible?
  • September 26, 2012
    lilliterra
    Well- I can think of one clear difference. In The Man Behind The Man, it is usually about someone being manipulated or directly commanded. In this case, it is more about taking credit for someone else's work. Maybe it could be a Sub Trope of The Man Behind The Man. Or there could be a totally different name.
  • September 26, 2012
    acrobox

    The way this is different from Man Behind The Man in my opinion is that this is about a Woman who is the support behind a seemingly powerful man who without her support or her work behind the scenes wouldn't be as effective., as opposed to a person who is the master manipulator behind another individual thats just a puppet or figurehead that does their bidding.

    The Woman Behind The Man the man is still in charge, he's just dependent on the woman behind the scenes.

    The Man Behind The Man, whoevers behind the scenes is actually in charge.
  • September 26, 2012
    acrobox
    the phrase 'Behind every great man there stands a great woman' comes to mind. Maybe even as a trope title.

    Behind Every Great Man
  • September 26, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    I don't think this is a distinct trope as-is.

    Perhaps if you were to focus on the character type of the woman who ends up in such a role in historical fiction, rather than the revelation that our enemy was actually being directed by a woman! (SHOCK) but even then I think we might already have it.
  • September 27, 2012
    captainsandwich
    I heard this was largely the case with George Washington and his wife Martha. However I didn't try and verify it.
  • September 27, 2012
    Koveras
    Behind Every Great Man in the traditional sense ("...stands a great woman") can be a distinct trope, since it is not meant that the woman manipulates the man in the way The Man Behind The Man does but supports him in his endeavors by word and deed, which he wouldn't be able to tackle if not for her.

    • The Posthumous Characters Cave Johnson and Caroline (who became GlaDOS after Cave's death) from Portal 2 had this dynamic, with the diligent and devoted Caroline supporting the slightly insane Cave even when things turned for the worse for Aperture. In return, Cave named her his successor shortly before his death.
  • September 27, 2012
    Astaroth
    Lady Macbeth would be a related trope
  • September 27, 2012
    acidxbel
    If this does get made, the title would probably have to change - as is, it refers to the master manipulator version. You do mean something different, right?
  • September 27, 2012
    Antigone3
    The Fire Rose: In a flashback/memory scene, Rose wonders if it would really be so bad to let her husband present her research as his own. (One of her fellow students, who was courting her, also stole her research paper instead of doing the coursework himself.) 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.
  • September 27, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    In the final episode of Arrested Development it is revealed that Lucille was behind the Bluth Company all along, not George Sr.
  • September 27, 2012
    Rognik
    The Stepford Wives I believe is an example, where the one reforming all the women in the city is actually the mayor of the town but the mayor himself is a cyborg, created by his wife, who feels ambitious women ruin a marriage.

    Real Life: Eleanor Roosevelt became the face for her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, after he was severely crippled by polio. While he was still nominally in charge, she became the one to actually enact most of the presidential duties. (details may need some editing)
  • September 27, 2012
    Shadowslayer
    Iron Man: Pepper Potts, the secretary of Tony Stark, actually tends to the day to day runnings of Stark Industries, while her boss is mostly involved with personal pursuits.

    Subverted when Tony appoints her CEO of the company in his place.
  • September 27, 2012
    lilliterra
    Hm... I do like the title "Behind every great man".
  • September 27, 2012
    Jordan
    @Rognik- I think you are confusing Eleanor's role with that of Edith Wilson (wife of Woodrow)- toward the end of his term, Wilson was nonfunctional, and Edith did basically carry out duties for him- more on that here. AFAIK, while FDR did have polio (I believe way prior to his presidency), he was never incapacitated to that degree (although Eleanor was the first First Lady to be very politically involved).

    For a fictional example:

    • 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.
  • September 27, 2012
    Chabal2
    Alexander The Great and Nero's mothers, according to some historians.
  • September 27, 2012
    MorwenEdhelwen
    Eva Peron for her husband Juan.
  • September 28, 2012
    TrustBen
    In Barton Fink WP Mayhew is a drunken burnout whose scripts are all ghostwritten by his mistress Audrey Taylor.
  • September 28, 2012
    Sackett
    I think this is a subtrope, but should only count if the gender is important for some reason:

    A woman requires a man to front for her, or the man is ashamed that a woman is the real source of whatever.

    If it just happens to be a woman then it isn't really this trope.
  • September 29, 2012
    Antigone3
    Related to Moustache De Plume, where a fake male identity "fronts" for the woman.

    ... and it looks like Front Man isn't in use, how does that sound as a name for this?
  • September 29, 2012
    lilliterra
    All right, I've changed the name. Is this one any better?
  • September 30, 2012
    tardigrade
    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.
  • September 30, 2012
    lexicon
    This could work as a trope. It should be stated that it's the opposite of Never A Self Made Woman where behind a great woman there is a great man.
  • October 2, 2012
    Antigone3
    Often a result of the Heir Club For Men, where an incompetent male is in power due to birthright, but his wife/mother/sister is either forced to do the ruling for him, or finds advising him to be the only way she can exercise any power.

    • 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.
    • A Real Life example (from the page The Consigliere, which can overlap with this);
      Elanor's work at Dover was considerable. There was a continuous flow of messages to and from the Countess who was busy supporting her husband's revolt against the King. She dispatched assistance to him including a certain William the Engineer, who was evidently a specialist in siege weaponry. She procured military equipment for her husband's use, maintained relations with a substantial body of military followers and conducted negotiations with various third parties. Among the visitors who dined with Elanor of Dover, were leading citizens from the port towns of Sandwich and Winchelsea, whose support or assistance she was presumably trying to enlist, and she fostered relations with visiting ambassadors and merchants from overseas...
      — Daily Life In Medieval Europe by Jeffery L Forgeng

    (I do think the first line of the description should go, as it's misleading. The Man Behind The Man is closely related, but this trope isn't just "That, except she's a woman". For example, The Dark Knight Rises has a female Man Behind The Man, but I don't think it counts as this trope.)
  • December 4, 2012
    johnnye
    Bump. I think Sackett is right that it should if possible be limited to times when the woman isn't able to hold power on her own -- those First Ladies mentioned could never have been elected in their own right, medieval wives couldn't hold their own lands and titles, etc. Otherwise it's just Hypercompetent Assistant But Female!

    Maybe if it's limited to wives, specifically, as with Lady Macbeth?
  • December 4, 2012
    jatay3
    If both are competent it is a variation of Ruling Couple.
  • December 4, 2012
    arromdee
    The Warehouse 13 example is a sister, not a wife, but it fits everything else.

    I agree that for this to be a trope it has to be connected to the idea that the woman couldn't make it on the front because she's a woman.
  • December 4, 2012
    Antigone3
    This is flagged "Up For Grabs" -- is that accurate? (lilliterra's last post on this was end of September.) I'm willing to take it on.
  • December 5, 2012
    Arivne
    ^ Since more than two months has passed since the OP (original poster) lilliterra's last post, this is Up For Grabs as per that page.
  • December 5, 2012
    Antigone3
    I'll finish inserting examples later, I'm posting from work.
  • December 6, 2012
    Antigone3
    Someone who's watched The Stepford Wives -- did I sort that one into the correct category? It wasn't clear whether that scene was book, film, or both.
  • December 6, 2012
    Chabal2
    An Agatha Christie novel had a chemist whose wife was murdered, and 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.
  • December 6, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Real life: Watson and Crick stole used Rosalind Franklin's X-ray crystallography research, which was crucial in discovering the structure of DNA, without crediting her. Franklin's critical contribution was only acknowledged twenty-five years later.
  • December 6, 2012
    SKJAM
    • Walter Keane for years took the credit for his wife Margaret's "big eyed children" paintings, going so far as to lock her in a room for extended periods. This came out at their divorce, and eventually Margaret was able to prove in court that she was the true artist.
  • December 7, 2012
    Antigone3
    We've got plenty of examples, I'm calling for hats or critiques.
  • December 7, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Minor comment to Antigone3: I like the rewrite, but it should be "long after her death", she died pretty soon after the paper was published (1958) and before that Nobel Prize was awarded, but her contribution didn't come to light until the publication of Watson's book The Double Helix (1968), which made it obvious. Also, I prefer "crucial contribution", the discovery certainly would not have been made without her pictures.

    Also, sadly, if it's "not an exact match", it probably doesn't belong at all. But it does match the laconic ("An influential man takes the credit for a woman's work.") very well. Your call.
  • December 11, 2012
    Antigone3
    Yeah, on re-reading I pulled that example. It's more plagiarism than this trope.
  • December 12, 2012
    Lascoot
    Does the man have to be already notorious though? I mean if a story features a situation like this where the man isn't yet succesfel/famous/etc but it's the plan (or simply to make money with it), doesn't that count as well? I'm sure I've read a steampunk book where the daughter was the actual mechanic, and the father/brother? was the front of the shop. No plans to take over the world, just to get by.

    A literature example that fits the trope as it is now:

    • In Loretta Chase's ''Mr. Impossible" Daphne is a translator of Egyptian Hieroglyphs, but 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.

    (There isn't a Work page for this book though)
  • December 17, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • In an episode of The Simpsons Marge disvovers that she has a knack for handymaning but nobody will hire a female handyman, so she uses Homer as her beard; she does the work and he gets the credit.
    • Remington Steele: Laura Holt opens her own Private Detective agency but nobody will hire a femal detective, so 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 on in power rather than her husband Richard IV.
  • December 17, 2012
    Antigone3
    Lascoot -- I would think at least some cases of "man planning to become famous by taking advantage of a woman's efforts" would count. If you remember the title, let us know so we can decide if it's more this trope or plagiarism.
  • January 19, 2013
    Antigone3
    YKTTW Bump -- we've got plenty of examples, just need a couple more hats before launch.
  • February 15, 2013
    Antigone3
    Bump
  • March 1, 2013
    Antigone3
    YKTTW Bump -- any problems that need to be sorted before launch?
  • March 1, 2013
    Chabal2
    An inversion with Marie Curie, whose discoveries were definitely presented as her own.
  • March 5, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In the Noel 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.
  • June 14, 2013
    Antigone3
    Sorry for the lag on this -- I think it's ready to launch, but does anyone else want to chime in?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=op6sprsb1brbp4cruemkx90g