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Behind Every Great Man

...stands an even greater woman!

Or in about a hundred variations is a Stock Phrase referring to how people rarely achieve greantess without support structures that go generally unappreciated, and said support structure is a traditionally female role via being the wife, mother, or sometimes another relation. This trope is specifically about a man who is credited with something important, but its at some level a bit of a fraud.

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 dealing with the paparazzi (who 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.

The Man Behind the Man is not a Distaff Counterpart, since that can still be a woman and the two overlap. The woman in this trope specifically cannot claim credit for her own work because she is a woman. Additionally the The Man Behind the Man is far more often the puppetmaster, this trope can still have the man being a dominant role if the woman is say too shy or otherwise unwilling to be in the spot, or he is actively stealing her work and gender roles prevent her from resisting this treatment.

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:

Anime and Manga
  • This trope became motive for murder in Detective Conan: a tenured male professor plagiarizes the work of one of his female students, telling her point blank that nobody would've taken her paper seriously if she'd published it under her own name.

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.

Folklore
  • A Russian joke goes: Behind every great man there is a great woman saying: "You are not that great, and you're a total douchebag to boot!".

Live Action Television
  • Warehouse 13: Helena G. Wells is actually the one responsible for writing The 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.
  • A variation in Grey's Anatomy. Meredith comes up with a method to attempt to cure a specific kind of brain tumor with a viral injection. She enlists Derek's help, and the two perform clinical trials on patients who have exhausted all other options. While most of their patients die, they are able to successfully cure one and publish their findings. Derek ends up being the one who gets all the credit for inventing the "Sheppard method". Meredith is pissed for not even being mentioned in the article. Derek chides her for acting emotional and immature, claiming credit doesn't matter. Besides, he is the attending doctor, while she was just a resident. As such, all the risk was his, so it would make sense that the reward would be his as well. After Bailey confronts him about this, she explains that Meredith doesn't really care about her name in the article, only that Derek acknowledge that her help was invaluable. He does it, and the matter is never brought up again.
    • This parallels the Christina/Burke situation. After Burke's gunshot wound and surgery, he loses some fine motor control in his hands. He keeps it a secret from everyone, as he would lose his job and status as the best heart surgeon in the state. Christina offers to be present on all his surgeries and take over for him when his hands start to shake under the guise of him teaching her the methods. Eventually, his hands fully recover, and they prepare to get married. He leaves her at the altar (claiming she's not ready for marriage) and moves out. The next big mention of Burke is him winning a prestigious award, which devastates Christina. She gives the Chief a tirade about how none of what she did for Burke appears to matter now. He wouldn't have won the award if not for her helping him get past his crisis and keeping it quiet, and yet he's the world-famous surgen, and she's still where she was before he left.

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 Richard 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.
  • The Agatha Christie novel Destination Unknown had a chemist whose first 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 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.

Video Games
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, both Queen Anora and her father, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir, assert that whilst ruling alongside Cailan Theirin, she was the actual stateswoman. It's actually also the reason why she objects to marrying Alistair if certain conditions haven't been met earlier in the story; she fears that his reign would be very similar to the late King Cailan's.

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
  • As one might expect this being Truth in Television can be hard to determine. While it rarely percolates up to pop-cultural history level if you study more detailed biographies most important men in history (particularly politicians) were either married or otherwise had other important female figures in their lives. These women often served as sounding boards, confidants, and advisers so how much this might be in play can be anybody's guess. Its would not be unreasonable for a number of historical cases to have slipped through the cracks.
  • In The Secret History of the Mongol Queens author Jack Weatherford's basic thesis is more/less that this trope writ large was the case for Genghis Khan's entire empire. Mongol women were traditionally expected to manage wealth and run matters while the men were at war (they owned the carts and yurt tents for example) and this was applied through Genghis Khan's daughters and wives of his sons. While all the men were off conquering the world women held key administrative posts and exercised considerable influence in matters of succession. All perhaps stemming from the circumstances of Genghis Khans own upbringing where his mother Hoelun was the only reason he lived to adulthood after his minor chieftan father was poisoned and his followers abandoned the family, leaving him with considerable respect for women.
  • After Woodrow Wilson's stroke, his wife Edith is commonly thought to have invoked this trope. The 25th Amendment did not exist, so there was no mechanism requiring transfer of power and the current VP was considered of lackluster ability anyways in keeping with American Tradition.
    • 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.
  • President Taft his immediate predecessor was another case as Helen "Nellie" Taft was a far more natural politician then her husband who as a devoted lawyer dreamed only of sitting on the Supreme Court. She once claimed in her youth she the man she would marry would be the President of the United States. Sadly this time it was the wife who suffered the debilitating stroke and never recovered completely.
  • 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.
  • Author-editor Henri Gauthier employed many ghost writers. His young bride Gaby wrote racy stories of Schoolgirl Lesbians, Hot for Teacher, etc. He would lock her up daily until she'd produced a certain number of pages. "His" first novel by her sold in the millions, affecting fashions, spawning sequels and a stage play. Gaby ultimately got a divorce, dated men and women, and worked independently. The novel was Claudine at School, the author was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, and nobody today knows or cares who Gauthier was.