Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Men go down in history, but women make it

I can't remember which great philosopher said 'behind every great man there's a woman rolling her eyes', but it's a truism which unites a gender across continents, generations, races and religions.

(Chances are it was an observation of Socrates, whose notoriously formidable wife Xanthippe also probably persuaded him of his most famous quote, the weary admission 'I only know that I know nothing').

Similarly, we all know that history can often be summed up, in Julian Barnes words, as 'the lies of the victors', and that those lies are usually man, rather than women-made. But the more we investigate the details, we find that though the face of history is generally bearded, the trigger for historical cause and effect is often found to reside within the lesser-whiskered members of society.

In other words, while men are often seen to do things, women are usually the reason things happen.

It's no secret that this is the way families have been run since the introduction of sliced bread. But there are some areas, long regarded by the testicled sex as naturally male territory, where it's taking longer to sink in.

Global terrorism might be seen as one such area. Which is why I couldn't help enjoying the news this week that the real reason the Western world's No 1 Most Wanted, Osama bin Laden, was finally captured and killed was not down to the brilliance of CIA operatives or even sharp-eyed Pakistani cops, but a narked off wife with a grudge.

Apparently Osama's eldest wife, Khairiah Saber, got the hump about him moving his third, younger prettier bride into the family compound and sold him out to the US. An eight-month investigation into the 'Get Osama' mission, led by retired senior Pakistani army officer Shaukat Qadir, concluded 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'.

Chances are, the history books will strain like water-boarded Guantanamo prisoners not to surrender to this explanation. It might be the reality behind one of the biggest game-changers in the 21st century, but it just doesn't feel very 'Historical' does it?

It reduces a significant moment in the great timeline to a soap opera, and that feels a little too girlie for the David Starkeys of the world to take. Even unashamedly beholden husband Obama might struggle with this one. We like the idea that Robert the Bruce was persuaded to 'try again' by a persistent spider, but any suggestion that he made his way to Bannockburn because his wife told him to get out from under her feet would not be acceptable.

Sport is another male-claimed arena, which is why I'm always amused when its big hitters admit their most significant decisions were swayed not by patriotism, pride or the love of the game, but by their better halves.

Men laugh when Alex Ferguson says he decided not to retire because Cathy didn't want him moping around the house, but I'm sure it's true. They don't want to talk about Beckham turning his back on Paris St Germain because his wife was keen to stick to LA, but I'll bet that's how it was. World beater Barry McGuigan did many wonderful things, but when I asked him this week what would impress the teenage Barry most about how his life turned out, he said 'finding out the girl across the road was interested in him too'. And of course you'll know, dear reader, he married her.

Happy Mother's Day.

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