The Badass B*tches Behind Basic Men

  • By Steph L

The Badass B*tches Behind Basic Men

The Badass B*tches Behind Basic Men

Sayings like “Behind every great man is a great woman” have infiltrated our minds as a girl-power idea for a very long time. Unfortunately, it looks like the long shadow cast by powerful or influential males has meant that many women’s stories have been obscured.

Here we will go through a short history of some of the women I have found to be some of the great minds behind the known man whose stories have been forgotten by the fact that the men they were associated with were deemed more important.

These women's stories deserve as much respect as the men they were with however, given a male-dominant perspective of the majority of history, it is easy to see why their stories have been lesser discussed.


First, we have Martha Gellhorn, a 20th-century war correspondent and first wife of Ernest Hemingway. In my eyes, Martha’s accomplishments far outweigh her brief marriage. Martha began her career as a journalist in the United States before moving to a bureau in Paris. Martha reported on the economic crisis in the US during the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War in the ’30s and went to Germany at the outbreak of World War Two. On D-Day, 1944, Martha Gellhorn was the only female reporter to land at Normandy, sneaking her way in. Continuing to write throughout the war, Martha was present for the liberation of Dachau and Paris. After the war, she divorced her writer husband and continued reporting on war such as the invasions of US troops in Panama and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. She continued reporting into her 80’s. While her life with Hemingway was short, she refused to be labeled as someone's wife, saying “why should I be a footnote in someone else's life?”.


Coretta Scott King was one powerful woman! The wife of Martin Luther King and an activist and human rights campaigner in her own right, she said, “..I was never just a wife, never just a widow. I was always more than a label”. During her life, she was often annoyed at being seen as a helpmate, rather than an activist in conjunction with her husband, saying “I am made to sound like an attachment to a vacuum cleaner." Coretta is seen as being the true activist behind MLK. While Martin was the figurehead, a lot of the couple's peaceful world view was directly contributed to Coretta. For example, she spoke up against America’s involvement in Vietnam earlier and more forcefully than her husband did, and continued to be an involved activist well after his death. Coretta deserves to be remembered as an outspoken, progressive activist on her own merits.


Next, we have Gala Dali, partner of surrealist painter Salvador Dali and an artist in her own right. Born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova in the Russian Empire, nothing about her seemed to foreshadow that she would become involved with poet Paul Eluard, Dadaist Max Ernst, and finally Salvador Dali. Gala became a muse (and obsession) for Dali and was painted in many of his paintings.

While it seems their relationship was far from ‘typical’ there appears to be that obsessive love for his muse, and reciprocation for creating a surreal life together. As Art Historian, Elliot King wrote, “there is a great mystery around her. She let Dali be the showman- but she was the person behind the screen.. making the decisions.” Later saying, “Without Gala, divine Dali would be insane”. 


Alma Reville was the wife of famed filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. Alma was destined to be such an integral part of the film industry albeit shadowed by her husband. Hitchcock and his future wife first met on a film set where she was a script editor and eventually began working on films with Hitchcock, being hired as his editor.

Alma made her mark on each of Hitchcock's films and was deemed a great influence on him. According to Hollywood folklore, it was Alma who suggested the main character be killed off in the first half-hour of Psycho as well as convincing Hitchcock that the famous shower scene should have the piercing score behind it.


Charlie Chaplin’s character of the Little Tramp, the man who gets shut down by life but keeps on getting back up again in case the next time something better happens, this better thing might’ve been Oona Chaplin. It is said that a young Oona Chaplin was partially an inspiration to Truman Capote for the character Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Oona was quite a society figure, befriending people like Truman Capote, Walter Matthau, and Orson Welles.

Through Welles, she was put up for a role in Chaplin’s film Shadow and Substance. The then 17-year-old Oona and Charlie Chaplin immediately fell in love much to the chagrin of her then-boyfriend, Jerome David Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye. While it may seem that Oona was just a socialite, many historians have said that it was her support of her tramp that ensured he would be remembered forever, standing by him as he was accused of being a communist and being investigated by the FBI during the 1950s.


Jane Nebel, the partner of Jim Henson was the mother to many colourful muppets. Meeting as young adults in university where they were both studying puppetry, Jane and Jim went on to work together on Sam and Friends which went on to launch The Muppets as we know them.

They went on to work together for many years, creating iconic characters such as Kermit and Miss Piggy, with Jane being considered a major behind the scenes force. Unfortunately, after becoming residents on Sesame Street and creating The Muppet Show, the pair broke up. Jane ultimately lost both Henson and the company she helped create but forever being remembered as a main driving force in the creation of iconic puppetry, continuing to work in puppetry and with the Jim Henson Creature Shop.


Many more women have been washed behind the men that history allowed to take up more space and accolades. I’ve only just touched on each of these women’s stories, their full stories are so much more interesting so below is some further reading on important women of history.


Reading List

Behind Every Great Man by Marlene Wagman-Geller

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King

100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell

A History of the World in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

Difficult Women: A history of feminism in 11 fights by Helen Lewis 

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