The familiar phrase “Behind every great man stands a woman,” is considered dated and likely somewhat offensive to women who advocate our advancement, but it’s not quite obsolete. Although there’s been progress in an enlightened direction, it’s been more tedious than has been hoped. As a youth I was aware this quote was based on the assumption of certain inequities between men and women, but I also realized that it reflected an established norm. Except for a few progressive thinkers known as feminists, most women and men accepted this premise without argument, or at least minimal resentment that they voiced in public.
Today it would seem an obvious slam to the inherent equality of men and women. However, some women still appear to accept this statement without recognizing the irony it holds. I’ve discovered that by reversing the quote’s perspective to say “In front of very great woman stands a man,” many truths become evident that were all but buried in the original “Behind every great man stand a woman.”
The first truth is that all women are great, without exception. We all have greatness within us, some of it unrealized, but the potential is always there. Our greatness doesn’t depend on our heritage, our wealth, our personal assets, or our accomplishments. I believe our greatness—no matter our gender—lies within our strength of character and capacity for love. Millions of women are remarkable in our integrity and kindness, although we have little or no opportunity to develop these powerful traits except perhaps in the home, if we are fortunate to have one. Sadly, millions more are left without homes at all, or homes that offer no support, and a lack of support from our culture which prohibits us in effect to work to feed our families.
But whether women are destitute, under-served, or ostracized by society or whether we’re rich, privileged, educated, and prepared with the tools we need for success, we all find men standing in front of us at pivotal points in our lives as well as in our day-to-day interactions. They may or may not be bullying us, condescending to us, and withholding their approval of our actions, but they still control the finances and make the rules which maintain their one-up status. Most of these men are standing before us because they have more money and more power than we might ever expect to possess. It may be our fathers, our boyfriends, our husbands, our bosses, the tradesmen who build and repair our houses and cars, and—a little further removed but just as relevant—the men in government who don’t find important our dire needs for childcare, medical services, protection from rape and abuse, equal pay for equal work, and other issues crucial to women. These men comprise the vast majority of our city, state, and federal representatives as compared to women, who hold a tiny percentage of positions in public office, just as male leaders at the top echelons of business are far more plentiful than their female counterparts.
The good news in the U.S. is that women are not only in a majority of the population, but for the first time in history according to research, there are actually more single women than married ones. So why is it still so difficult for us to get laws enacted that will serve our best interests? Why don’t we exercise our freedom to enter politics, or at least vote for those who advocate for our rights? Do the men who wield power intimidate us? Are we afraid of the consequences of becoming more assertive, even aggressive, in insisting our needs are met? Are we afraid of our own power, including the responsibility connected with standing on our own and reaching our potential, despite formidable male forces that we will need to confront? Is it still possible that many of us are complacent with our own creature comforts and don’t care about defending women’s rights along with our sisters who are fighting for fairness and a healthier more inclusive economy? Are we really blind to the urgency to solve issues of global poverty based on gender injustice?
The reasons we hesitate to come forward may be understandable, considering our positions in life which could be described as dependent, subjugate, and insecure at best. But if we are ever to advance to more financial independence—along with the freedom and empowerment it entails—we need to try a little harder to be the women who stand beside the men in our lives, not behind them. And we must own the fact that we’re entitled to equal respect based on our shared humanity. I know that many women are already working hard to make this vision a reality and I’ve witnessed wide agreement that any help from either sex and no matter one’s sexual orientation is more than welcome!