FEMINISM ON TRIAL: The Ginny Foat Case and Its Meaning for the Future of the Women's Movement by Ellen Hawkes

FEMINISM ON TRIAL: The Ginny Foat Case and Its Meaning for the Future of the Women's Movement

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The life and trial for murder of the ex-president of California's National Organization for Women and ""the conflicts and controversies behind her arrest"" which, according to Hawkes, ""were emblematic of the very difficulties that sapped and weakened feminism."" At the time of her very public arrest (reporters had been tipped off), Foat was running for a position on NOW's national board as a step toward the national presidency. The resulting media blitz laid bare a nasty feud between pro-Foat and anti-Foat members. She led a radical wing that wanted NOW ""to get out of mainstream politics"" and actively solicit women from all walks of life. National NOW president, Judy Goldsmith, genteelly disassociated the organization from Foat's plight. Foat supporters (among them, the bellicose Gay Task Force) were outraged. The organization was stunned when it learned that New Orleans police had been inadvertantly tipped off to Foat's whereabouts in a letter written by a prominent NOW member. Shelly Mandell professed she merely wanted to put to rest ugly rumors about a possible murder rap hanging over Foat. These were related to Foat's 1977 arrest and imprisonment in Nevada after her ex-husband voluntarily confessed to a 1965 murder in that state and an earlier one in New Orleans, naming her as his accomplice. After Jack Sidote decided not to testify against his ex-wife, the charges were dropped in Nevada. But not in Louisiana--where, unbeknownst to Foal a warrant for her arrest was alive and ticking like a time bomb. New Orleans authorities granted Sidote immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony against Foat. In the trial, Foat denied knowledge of or collaboration in Sidote's murders and portrayed herself as a victim of an alcoholic and sadistic wife-beater. A sympathetic jury found her innocent on the very day ERA went down to defeat. Hawkes faults Foat for using the ""hapless female"" stereotype as her defense and for ignoring the possibility that she would face a murder charge in Louisiana (with enormous repercussions for NOW). She faults NOW for walking away from Foat and for airing its dirty linen in public. She examines the likelihood that Louisiana authorities were motivated by an antifeminist bias in hauling Foat to trial rather than her husband. In an epilogue she contrasts Foat's life with that of Geraldine Ferraro, who also was damaged by a husband's activities. The moral seems to be that man can be a liability for prominent women and that women's lib has a lot to learn in handling its membership and the media.

Pub Date: May 28th, 1986
Publisher: Morrow