Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Feminism on Trial


Ginny returned to California after the trial and attempted to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and career. Her case had left the women's movement sharply divided and factionalized. To some she had become a cause cèlébre for the women's movement and her victory was, indeed, as Ginny put it, "a victory for all women." The verdict was lauded by many of the nation's top feminist leaders, including Smeal who prior to the verdict, hadn't taken a public stand on the case. But, in the eyes of many, Ginny could not be accepted back into the fold. Justifiably, she was angry over this, especially with the national organization and with Judy Goldsmith.

Ginny was critical of the national NOW leadership for not giving their full support to her during her legal ordeal. She accused the organization of forgetting its grass-roots membership, focusing too much on mainstream politics. Goldsmith had said she was "extremely pleased" with the acquittal and she hoped Ginny could "now pursue her feminist activities free from the glare of publicity." But Ginny was bitter that neither Goldsmith nor her successor at the California NOW chapter, Sandra Farha, had sent her a personal letter of congratulations.

Phyllis Schlafly
Phyllis Schlafly

While Ginny's ordeal was going on, time ran out on the Equal Rights Amendment. Thanks largely to a growing anti-feminist sentiment, led by Phyllis Schlafly of Illinois, the ERA had failed to achieve passage in the 38 state legislatures needed for ratification. When the national election year of 1984 arrived, the women's movement focused on reviving ERA, as well as defeating President Reagan's bid for reelection. Ginny wanted to be a part of that effort but whether or not she could do it within NOW was doubtful.

During the years following her release, Ginny traveled widely giving interviews, lecturing on the plight of battered women, and putting the finishing touches on her book with Laura Foreman. A made-for-TV movie was made on her life entitled The Death of a Passive Woman.

Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale's decision to select Geraldine Ferraro as his vice presidential running mate was seen as a great victory for the women's movement. Never before in the nation's history had a woman been nominated for national office. NOW, which had never before officially endorsed a presidential candidate, went on to endorse Mondale, a move opposed by Ginny who felt the organization was becoming an arm of the Democratic Party. Once again, her thinking was out of the organizational mainstream. Nonetheless, Ginny attended the 1984 NOW convention, not speaking to Goldsmith or vice versa.

Reagan's landslide victory that year further fragmented the women's movement, creating a contingent that was conscious of the growing national trend toward conservatism. Conservative columnists like Patrick Buchanan were saying that feminism was "passé" and that its time had passed. Even the grand matriarch of the women's movement, Betty Friedan, was critical of the national organization for allowing "radicals" to run the show. Open displays of lesbianism at the 1985 NOW convention in New Orleans further alienated those in the mainstream faction.

Ginny wasn't there, however. Perhaps it would have brought back bitter memories of the city or, more likely, it would have put her in the same company of those she accused of betraying her. In attendance at the convention and working for the candidacy of Smeal were Shelly Mandell, Elaine Lafferty, and Toni Carabillo. At the time Ginny had a $5 million lawsuit against Mandell and two dozen other unnamed people for "invasion of privacy and emotional distress." Nonetheless, despite her absence, her name was on a lot of tongues. The case was still fresh in delegates' minds. When the vote was taken for national NOW president, Ginny received two write-in votes.


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