Feminism on Trial
When Ginny Foat walked out of the Jefferson Parish Courthouse in Gretna, Louisiana a free woman on November 16, 1983, she and others who sided with her during her high-profile trial on murder charges were quick to proclaim it a victory for the feminist cause. Within hours of her acquittal for a murder that occurred eighteen years earlier, she broke her silence on the case, telling reporters that her "not guilty" verdict was "a victory for all women whose plight in life is to have to stay in a position because of social mores."
But was it a victory for a noble cause or was it merely a personal triumph for an abused, formerly battered woman who found herself on the dark end of a bad situation? Was Ginny Foat truly "innocent" in the 1965 bludgeoning death of an Argentine businessman visiting New Orleans or was she found "not guilty" simply because there was too much reasonable doubt in the minds of a sympathetic jury? Because her sole accuser was a disreputable, unsympathetic character and no corroborative evidence could be introduced by the prosecution? Doubts persist to this day. A number of right wing, anti-feminist, anti-abortion Web sites still refuse to acknowledge the jury's verdict. The truth, if it is not known already, may never be known.
What is known is that a man died a brutal death in a darkened, isolated section of a New Orleans suburb and no one has ever been convicted of his murder. The case is considered solved, but key questions remain unanswered. It is generally understood that Jack Sidote, Foat's second of four husbands, had at least some role in the crime, if not the only role. However, owing to the deal he cut with the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office, he would never have to stand trial for the murder if he fingered his ex-wife as the perpetrator. After the verdict, Ginny Foat would go home to California and pick up and reassemble the pieces of a shattered life and career, Jack Sidote would return to a Nevada jail cell, and a family in Argentina would continue mourning the loss of a loved one, wondering whether or not justice was served.
Today Ginny Foat sits on the City Council in Palm Springs, California. She is one of three openly gay/lesbian elected city officials, including the mayor a seat once occupied by the late Sonny Bono. In this mid-sized resort community on the fringes of the Mohave Desert, made famous by its hotels, golf courses, and former resident Frank Sinatra, Ginny Foat goes about the routine business of attending ribbon-cuttings and voting on ordinances aimed at ensuring orderly growth in her adopted hometown. Her trial, which caused a national media feeding frenzy, is more than two decades behind her. She has moved on in the direction she was headed before the flow was interrupted by a highly publicized arrest in Burbank on a January day in 1983.
Who was Ginny Foat and why did her trial and acquittal cause such a stir in the media and within feminist and anti-feminist circles? Did she deserve to be the cause cèlébre some made her out to be or was she the femme fatale as others portrayed her? The story began long before her election as President of the California Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1981 and her emergence as one of the nation's leading spokespersons against domestic violence. It began, humbly enough, in the teeming New York City borough of Brooklyn more than sixty years ago.