Zendaya was just trying to answer a few questions about Euphoria, her new television show, but a man in the audience couldn’t help himself and repeatedly asked her out on a date.
When a woman says no, she doesn’t want to go on a date with you, that means no, she doesn’t want to go on a date with you. Right? Right.
Most of us have grasped this simple fact. Well, most of us except for this one man in the audience at a Q&A screening for Euphoria, Zendaya’s brand new HBO show. The series is based on an Israeli television show of the same name and follows a group of teenagers – played by Zendaya, Maude Apatow and Storm Reid, to name just a few – as they go about navigating high school. There’s sex, there’s questions of identity and growing up and there’s the power of female friendship. It sounds fantastic.
But at a recent Q&A screening of the series at the ATX TV Festival, a man in the audience didn’t want to talk about the show. He wanted to talk about Zendaya herself.
First, the man in the audience asked the actor if she “literally inhaled[d] the good stuff? The weed?” on screen. (“No, I don’t do any of that, so it was definitely a foreign thing for me,” Zendaya responded.) And then he proceeded to ask her out for ice cream on a date. And continue to ask her out, even after she politely declined.
“Yo, if I had time I would, because I love ice cream and I appreciate that,” Zendaya responded.
That wasn’t good enough for the man. “Is that a no or a maybe?” he said.
“We’ll see,” Zendaya said.
The man then graciously told Zendaya she could bring a plus one with her on the date because, you know, she didn’t know him at all.
Zendaya laughed and turned to the audience and said: “We all going”. Then, and only then, did the Q&A continue.
Who does this man think he is, Mr Collins? Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Collins, that bumbling antithesis of the hot priest? It was he, after all, who did not take our heroine Lizzy’s no for an answer, and continued to pester her with marriage proposals. “I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females,” he muses in the Jane Austen novel.
Absolutely not. When an “elegant female” says no, she means no.
Let’s clear something up right now: this kind of situation isn’t adorable or sweet, it’s creepy. Asking someone out on a date when they’re just trying to do their job, and then not taking their polite no for an answer, is creepy. Continuing to pester someone about that date, long after they’ve firmly conveyed that it is not something they want to spend their time doing, is creepy. Putting someone in this uncomfortable position is creepy.
In the catalogue of reasons for turning someone’s date request down, not wanting to go out with them is a perfectly acceptable one. And it should be received that way. But the chilling thing about this interaction is that, for many women, this situation is an all-too familiar one. And, for many women, they are not protected as Zendaya thankfully was by a team of security and panel moderators to ensure safety and distance between the man and themselves.
This, like so many things, all comes back to romantic comedies. A 2015 study from the University of Michigan revealed that “romanticised pursuit-behaviours” as seen in movies and televisions shows “can lead to stalker-supporting beliefs”.
The underlying problem, according to researchers at the University of Michigan, is twofold. Firstly, that women accept this kind of behavior as romantic but secondly – and more disturbingly – that men believe that this is the correct way to behave.
“Men are socialised to be persistent and women are socialized to be flattered by it,” head researcher Lippman told The Huffington Post. “And nine times out of 10 it’s not a problem and it’s not abuse… We’re taught that we should want this from men. That it means we’re desirable. And who doesn’t want to be desirable?”
Zendaya brilliantly shut down this persistent fan and it reminded everyone that it’s never OK to not take no for answer. But the more important question is why any man every thought it was OK to pester her for a date in the first place.