After being accused of sexual harassment as part of a wave of #MeToo allegations, the Mexican musician Armando Vega Gil killed himself. How does that impact the newly created movement in the country?
Armando Vega Gil, bass player from the Mexican band Botellita de Jerez, said he did not want to make anyone responsible for his suicide. Yet in his final post on Twitter, he wrote, "My death is not a confession of guilt. To the contrary, it is a radical declaration of my innocence."
Prior to his death, he had been accused by an anonymous woman of sexual abuse when she was 13 years old. The woman posted the accusation on Twitter with the hashtag #MeTooMusicosMexicanos (#MeTooMexicanMusicians), a social media campaign encouraging women to bring their experiences with harassment in the music industry to light.
A blow to Mexico's feminists?
Two days after the musician's death by suicide on Monday, the social media account that published hundreds of harassment claims against Mexican artists suspended its activities. The campaign's promoters lamented the death of Vega Gil and apologized for harm caused, while also reiterating the accusations leveled against more than 15 Mexican musicians.
People close to Vega Gil noted that he suffered from depression and that his suicide appeared to have already been planned. Nonetheless, his death has been a blow to the feminist movement and has spurred criticism about the dynamics of social media.
Anne Huffschmid, researcher at the Latin American Institute at the Free University of Berlin, considers the new practice of online accusations problematic. Still, she told DW that "to accuse the movement of performing a witch hunt clearly does not do justice to its efforts."
"The fact that it takes place online is a product of the lack of institutional and social forums for reporting and listening to these denunciations," Huffschmid said.
Me Too is a movement that was founded by US by activist Tamara Burke in 2006 to raise societal awareness of sexual abuse; it made headlines and became a trending hashtag in 2017, after groundbreaking reporting accused producer Harvey Weinstein of committing rape and sexual assaults.
Yet the movement did not reach Mexico in full force until just a few weeks ago, with the creation of the account #MeTooEscritoresMexicanos (#MeTooMexicanWriters), which used the hashtag to gather sexual harassment claims online. Other accounts focusing on other industries, such as journalism, film, music and academia, soon followed.
The avalanche of accusations, many of which were anonymous, resulted in alleged abusers being fired from their jobs; colleagues were disavowed, book tours canceled and later, Vega Gil committed suicide.
Critics of the movement have questioned why the victims' testimonies outweighed the presumption of the alleged abuser's innocence. In their view, the anonymous allegations tend to automatically turn the accused into culprits, without any evidence or a fair trial — which would offer protection against false accusations.
"If there are no adequate channels for harassment claims, the probability of these public lynchings increases," Ines Alberdi, professor of sociology at Madrid's Complutense University, told DW.
"This is the danger with social media and in that, we all bear a responsibility," Alberdi added.
On the other hand, it is also easy to attack the movement itself: "I consider it disastrous that #MeToo and its invaluable merits are immediately demonized and discredited for bringing to light and breaking the normalization of a type of violence that is not visible, precisely because it is not an evident and tangible form of violence," pointed out researcher Huffschmid.
Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, personally weighed in on the issue, saying that the country's Institute of Women should serve as the appropriate channel for these harassment claims. The debate, he said, is a delicate subject that should not be concealed, but mechanisms "to prevent [sexual harassment and violence] and to safeguard the dignity of both the accuser and the accused" should be established.
Confidentiality, not anonymity
A group tied to the #MeTooMexicanWriters campaign published a declaration reiterating their demands for structural changes in society and calling for more respect and inclusion.
"Violence against us women is not an isolated event, it is systemic and it is reproduced by the lack of impunity," the group said. Accusations are "in no way anonymous, but made confidentially, and each one is monitored and followed up," they added.
"We live in a country where nine women a day are murdered through gender violence, because the system not only does not take care of victims, but also further victimizes them," the group noted.
United Mexican Journalists, a women's association, revealed that in its first nine days, their #MeToo account gathered 312 confidential accusations, of which 242 were published. According to a study by AcosoDATA 1, some 73% of female media employees have been harassed in some way or form.
One of the risks of #MeToo would be to fall into puritanism, through which any form of compliment would end up viewed as a punishable aggression, pointed out Huffschmid. "Packing all types of aggression together is dangerous; it's not as if catcalling directly leads to rape and femicide. This contributes to trivializing more extreme and even deadly attacks," the researcher said.
"#MeToo's legitimacy is undeniable, but we must reflect on the mutations of this important social movement; we must reflect on what kind of exchanges are being generated by it," she added.
The movement has definitely "allowed a lot of suffering, a lot of imposed silence and abuse on women to come to light," said Alberdi, it has liberated the liberation of a very oppressed group, adding: "It took 40 years of women's rights activism and, through the help of the media, it crystallized into this bursting form."