ICYMI — which would be a serious oversight on your part — Law & Order: SVU celebrated its 400th episode this week. (Where's that little Law & Order double "boing boing" when you need it?) And besides being a damn good episode, "Motherly Love" drove home a very important point: Prime time television needs more Mariska Hargitays.
Mull over this for a minute. Including this week's episode, Hargitay has directed nine episodes, produced 35, acted as executive producer on nine and has starred in all 400.
That in and of itself is incredible. I mean, c'mon; it's crazy the show just made it to the 400-episode milestone. Even crazier? That we (yes, I'm looping your guilty ass in with mine) have seen all of them.
But what makes the feat that much more inspirational is that, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, women are disproportionately represented in television... by a large margin.
Their data shows that last year, 79 percent of the broadcast, cable and streaming television programs featured casts with more male than female characters. Behind the scenes — in the capacity of creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers and other creative executives — women accounted for only 26 percent.
Yes, gender inequality is still a thing, y'all.
It's heartening to consider Hargitay an example, though. For 18 years, we have grown to know and love now-Lieutenant Olivia Benson. That probably puts her in the ranks of some of your oldest friends, huh? We've taken this journey with her, and we love her for it.
Sure, we were all a bit broken-hearted when Stabler left (and we'd be lying if we said we weren't secretly hoping he'd cameo for the 400th), but Hargitay's Benson has always been the heart of the show.
In an industry that tends to tell women approaching 30 they are past their prime and tries to hand them sub-par roles, Hargitay has proven that a woman over 30 can absolutely carry a primetime television show. For nearly two decades, she has given girls and women someone like themselves to look up to.
For their part, the Twitterverse couldn't help gushing about Hargitay and what she has meant to all of us.
And if you look at the landscape of primetime television, I think you could easily say that Hargitay has paved the way for other stellar women in major roles. Women like Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder and Ellen Pompeo in Grey's Anatomy — both extremely successful female leads in ensemble casts. Women who aren't just being cast as mothers or hen-pecking housewives as they might have been 10 years ago.
Hargitay is helping to rewrite the narrative in Hollywood that says a woman has to be any one thing, most of all never-aging. This week's episode was a beautiful testament to the many sometimes-messy yet amazing facets of being a woman.
Handed a case in which she had to deal with another woman who was arguably one of the worst mothers we've seen on the show, Hargitay's Benson reacted professionally with her trademark wit and conviction. But she also expressed empathy and anger and sadness.
A woman has many nuances, and Hargitay nailed that complicated depth. When Barba asks if he can buy her a drink and she tearfully tells him she just wants to go home to her boy, she's all of us in that moment. Whether you have a kid or not, you could feel what Benson felt in that moment and it resonated with you for some reason or another.
It's nice to be given license to be human. With Benson, we get to see a character who is very clearly strong but who also cries sometimes. This negates that silly stereotype that crying or having feelings is a sign of weakness. In fact, it's because of Benson's feelings that she is such a great cop.
All of this to say that Mariska Hargitay is basically an American hero, and we need at least 10 more like her on TV. Thanks for 400 moving episodes, Mariska... here's to the next 400.
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