Feminism on Trial
Playing with the Boys
Although she couldn't have known it at the time, a number of developments in Ginny Foat's early childhood may well have prepped her for the life that was to come. During her growing up process she developed an early affinity for the opposite sex and she suffered a number of beatings from a loving but stern father that may have conditioned her to initially accept domestic violence as the norm.
Ginny Foat entered the world as Virginia Galluzzo on June 2, 1941, the oldest of two daughters of August ("Gus") and Virginia Galluzzo, for whom she was named. Gus Galluzzo, a hardworking, first generation Italian-American, was the manager for one of the Gristede Brothers' chain of food stores, toiling fourteen hours a day and half a day on Saturday to support his family.
When Ginny was six her father had saved up enough to move the family now consisting of a second daughter from Brooklyn into what was then considered the "suburbs." They bought a house in Queens Village in the neighboring borough of Queens that was "exactly like every other house on the block," according to Foat's 1985 autobiography Never Guilty, Never Free. It was a working class, strongly ethnic neighborhood consisting largely of Italians and Jews. "We lived there for six years or so, and all I recall as extraordinary about that part of my childhood was how perfectly ordinary it was," she wrote.
But, though Ginny's childhood appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary for a young girl growing up in the postwar era, there was one thing that didn't mesh with the stereotype: she was a tomboy. Despite being told by her mother, "Girls play with girls and boys play with boys," Ginny preferred the boys. They appeared to have more freedom and more fun. They did mischievous things like writing their names in the wet cement of newly poured sidewalks and experimented with smoking cigarettes. On one occasion a carelessly discarded match or still-lit butt set a nearby field on fire.
Like most of the other Italian-American fathers of the time, Gus was a stern patriarch and disciplinarian. Even though he loved Ginny and she loved him, when her punishment was deserved, he administered it. "Wait 'til your father gets home" was not an idle threat under the roof of the Galluzzo home. On at least a handful of occasions she could recall, Ginny was led to the basement and whipped with a leather strap her father had hanging there.
Though acknowledging in her book that she probably deserved the painful punishment, these whippings may have had unintended consequences. Ginny, who in later years would suffer physical abuse at the hands of a sadistic spouse and would become a spokesperson for the rights of abused women, asked herself some serious related questions in her book. "I've wondered whether it might have been there, in that basement, that I first began to believe in the rightness, the acceptability, of being beaten by a man I loved," she wrote in her book.