I’ve been meaning to write about this episode for a while, and given that MaggieCat’s just given an overview of the character, now is as good a time as any.
As MaggieCat’s article suggests, Lyla Garrity becomes an extremely complex character in ways that my reduced expectations of television shows have come to see as rather unique. Being punished for sexual choices is different for girls, and this show gets that. While both Lyla and Tim are punished, made aware of the social unacceptability of their affair, they are punished in fundamentally different ways and for fundamentally different reasons.
Several members of the football team take baseball bats to Tim’s truck as he sits inside it, not because of anything directly connected to him as a person, but because they’re standing up for Jason. It’s over once they’ve sent their message, and Tim gets that what was not okay about it was that he betrayed his much-loved and injured best friend. Everybody involved accepts this as payment, and moves on when the social code has been fulfilled.
Lyla’s punishment pervades every aspect of her life–other cheerleaders try to throw her off her game, treating it as a way to assert their superiority, people shout sexualized insults at her from the sidelines, she sits alone in the cafeteria listening to the whispers, and someone even sets up a website listing her sexual transgressions. She has to wash the word ‘whore’ off her locker. It’s ever-present, rather than just one incident. It’s got nothing to do with Tim or with Jason and everything to do with Lyla’s impurity and imperfection.
This episode highlights why placing women on a pedestal like this is just as misogynistic as putting them down constantly–it’s a standard that is always going to be impossible to live up to, because women are not being allowed to be human. One of the other cheerleaders, having helped taunt Lyla into mistakes at practice, listens to the coach yell at her and asks “Is it wrong to enjoy this?” The fact that before this incident, Lyla was seen as the crown princess of Dillon High is what makes the slut-shaming so satisfying. In the cafeteria, a couple of guys approach her to invite her to a party, ‘reassuring’ her that not only do they know about her actions with Tim, they like that this is what she’s really like. She’s out of the ‘good girl’ box and into the ‘bad girl’ one. There are only two choices–one misstep, any misguided sexual activity, and the switch gets flipped.
Several of the other female characters provide good support through the episode, but Lyla’s mom is the one who puts that into a place that can help Lyla deal with all of it–she gives Lyla permission to have made a mistake and move on from it, learning what she can. She lets her know that it can be just one mistake, that even as all of Lyla’s expectations for what her life would look like are crumbling around her, she doesn’t have to submit to having the switch flipped on her behalf.