A viral video of alleged groping on Mexican TV didn’t just spark a national debate about sexism – now, a prominent senator has told the BBC she wants a government investigation.
The scene played out between a male presenter and his female co-host. First, he tried to lift up her skirt. Then his advances escalated over the course of several minutes of airtime. She fended him off with a smile while trying to read comments from viewers, but he continued trying to touch her, dropping sexually charged comments before eventually groping her breast. She stormed off of the set, shouting “I can’t work like this!” and her co-presenter turned to the camera, telling the audience: “Excuse me, but my colleague is a bit hormonal.”
The incident on music programme A Toda Maquina (“Full Steam Ahead”) was aired on Mexican TV and kicked off a nationwide debate about how sexual harassment is tolerated in the workplace.
The network Televisa, the largest media company in Latin America, initially issued a statement saying that the groping was a stunt by the presenters, intended to produce a viral video. The company said it was unaware of the stunt in advance – and sacked both of the hosts. This version of events initially seemed to be backed up by the presenters, Tania Reza and Enrique Tovar, who appeared together in a YouTube video confirming that version of the story.
But then female presenter Tania Reza took to Facebook to say she was pressured to stand up the network’s version of events, and Tovar actually did grope her inappropriately – a charge that is now being examined by Mexico’s National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Discrimination.
At that point the online chatter went into overdrive, with tens of thousands of Mexicans discussing the case on Facebook and Twitter. “You are not alone, you should not allow them to fire you, never mind the harassment. If you need support, you can count on me,” wrote prominent politician Martha Tagle on Tania’s Facebook wall. “If what happened to Tania Reza was real and Televisa made her say that everything was staged, the bullying is two-fold,” wrote a Twitter user. Another user commented: “I don’t know what is worse, someone harassing like Enrique Tovar or Tania Reza taking the blame and saying that everything was a stunt.”
Prominent politicians also rushed to condemn Tovar and Televisa. “Tania Reza is the victim of both sexual and workplace harassment by being forced to supposedly exonerate Televisa of harassment,” Senator Angelica de la Pena, President of the Human Rights Commission at the Mexican Senate, wrote on Facebook.
The senator later told BBC Trending radio: “The broadcaster refuses to recognize that there is bullying and sexual harassment amongst its employees. This case is a microcosm of the violence that women have to deal with in Mexico.” She has requested that the government now launch a formal investigation.
Chumel Torres, a Mexican social media megastar sometimes compared with Jon Stewart, says the incident resonated with Mexicans because the pictures depicted things that are common in everyday life in the country.
“It is just something that happens almost daily in offices and homes,” added Torres. “I think that it is one of the main reasons everybody is outraged, because we have seen this before.”
Torres says the incident was clearly spontaneous: “You just need to watch it to know that’s not true.” In footage of the incident online, Reza looks visibly uncomfortable and awkwardly takes her microphone off before leaving the studio.
Katia D’Artigues, a noted online feminist and journalist in Mexico, believes it’s a good thing that incident has gone viral. “It’s created an online discussion about whether Tania was looking for it because ‘she’s very sexy’. That is unacceptable. A woman in Mexico, or in any part of the world, should be able to dress and to show whatever she wants. She deserves equal respect.”
After the public outcry came one more twist in the story. Televisa issued a second statement saying that both Reza and Tovar will be given their jobs back – and will be both be given training in sexual harassment and related issues.