I turned 50 a few years ago, at which time I embarked on a journey to discover what being 50 really means, so I feel somewhat qualified to share what I've learned so far with President Obama, who turns 50 on August 4th. Perhaps he'll read this. I hope so.
At first my plan was to keep it light and simple, focusing on health tips, fitness ideas, style suggestions, all of which I learned from the many people I interviewed for my book, which served as my own personal manual for entering this new chapter of life with energy and enthusiasm.
But, other than smoking -- which hopefully President Obama has successfully battled by now -- I think he's entering his 50s in good health and with a lot of style. The First Lady even thinks he's "still cute."
So I switched gears. Instead, I will focus on another equally important aspect of turning 50 that can often serve as a positive guide for how we choose to live the rest of our lives, and that transcends the push-ups we should be doing and the Vitamin D we should be taking (and the cigarettes we should be quitting). The simple question President Obama might ask himself this week as he turns 50 is this: What will be my legacy?
How one wants to be remembered often sneaks into our innermost thoughts when one turns 50. For those of us who aren't leaders of the world (and most of us are not), before turning 50 we are usually too caught up with the everyday business of life -- careers, children, community, friends, family -- to think about how we will be viewed by posterity. But, once we hit 50, we understand that life is not unlimited, so maybe now's the time to clarify our deepest priorities.
Being the President of the United States of America, though, I can only assume that President Obama and his team have been thinking about and planning his legacy for quite some time. But, is he on the right track?
When I asked friends on Facebook and Twitter to share their birthday greetings for President Obama, planning to print some in this article, one stood out:
Dear President Obama: On your birthday, remember your mother, wife and daughters as you make decisions that affect all women.
-Nancy Gruver, Founder and Publisher, New Moon Girl Media
It is with this simple, powerful statement I urge President Obama to think about his legacy from the vantage point of what it is like to be a 50-year old woman in the United States of America in 2011, and see the world from our eyes.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article -- "From Anger to Action: Why Women Must Get Mad" -- which generated a great deal of discussion and debate here on Huffington Post, and elsewhere. Based on that article, and what has transpired in the country in recent days, these are just a few of the realities of life in America which are having a drastic impact on the lives of all women, including those over 50:
- Women still earn approximately 77 cents for every dollar a man earns
- A smaller percentage of women hold senior level management jobs or board positions, compared to men, than ever before
- Childcare options are dismal and unsatisfactory across the country
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of all post-recession jobs that have been created, 90% have gone to men because employers are more sympathetic to a man who is out of work than a woman who is unemployed
- Social programs that children and women depend on to eat and live will be drastically cut
- Older Americans will find their social services reduced
Solving these issues will take some time, as they have been many years in the making and were compounded by the events of this week. But there is one thing President Obama could do -- right now -- that would expedite the resolution of some of these issues (certainly the pay inequity) and solidify his legacy as the president who took a stand and made It happen. He could demand that these simple words become the 28th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
It is the Equal Rights Amendment.
If he really wanted to ensure the legal and constitutional rights of women in America, including those of his daughters, President Obama could help to push this through. All he has to do is ask himself: Is this the right thing to do?
He could also think about this:
Can a country that prides itself as the leader and protector of democracy in the world, and one which implores other countries to include the word "women" in their constitutions (Afghanistan and Iraq), still not protect the rights of women in its own?
Many believe that President Obama knows in his heart that it's time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. But, he may not be ready to act according to his conscience, given the conservative tone of our country, and therein lies the potential problem with his legacy.
For inspiration, perhaps he could look to the teachings of philosopher John Stuart Mill, an early advocate of women's suffrage who believed that political philosophy should be guided by what is good for society as a whole, and equality for all is at the very heart and soul of democracy, is it not?
Or, he could embrace the spirit of Sir Thomas More, who, even in the face of death, followed his conscience and did not side with King Henry VIII when the king wanted to divorce his wife. One of my favorite scenes from the fantastic film, A Man For All Seasons, depicts Sir Thomas' position perfectly:
The Duke of Norfolk: Oh confound all this. I'm not a scholar, I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not but dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can't you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!
Sir Thomas More: And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?
He might, too, want to ponder these profound thoughts from Friedrich Nietzsche:
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
Let President Obama's 50th birthday gift to himself, his wife, his daughters, and to his country be to follow his heart, his good judgement and his conscience, and pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
And let his legacy show that he created true equality for all in the United States of America.
Happy 50th Birthday, President Obama. Welcome to the club.
* * *
For more information about The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More please visit my website: www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Staying connected is a powerful tool: "Friend" me on Facebook and "Tweet" me on Twitter (BGrufferman). Be well, and stay in touch!
Follow Barbara Hannah Grufferman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGrufferman