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Law & Order SVU has helped give Mariska Hargitay a platform where she could change lives, much like the show changed hers. Her passionate championing of women’s rights especially have led some to wonder if Hargitay is a feminist. It’s a label she wondered about herself.

What Mariska Hargitay thought of the word feminist

Mariska Hargitay, dressed in black, walks in a park while filming an episode of 'Law and Order: SVU'
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 10: Mariska Hargitay is seen at the film set of the ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’ TV Series on April 10, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

SVU features Hargitay’s Olivia Benson often solving a variety of crimes. This includes domestic cases and crimes against women. Her reaction to the SVU fanbase inspired her to create the Joyful Heart foundation, which is dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence in real life. In an interview with Bust, given the actor’s activism, Hargitay was asked if she considered herself a feminist.

“Sure, sure I do,” she said. “I’m all about and for women. But do I call myself that? Well, other people call me that, and I welcome the title, but as opposed to what? You see what I’m saying? Opposed to what? I’m a personist. Am I a feminist? Yes. Do I promote and support women? You bet I do. Do I think that women’s voices need and deserve to be elevated? Yes. Yes. Yes.”

But her overall focus seemed to be on uniting everyone together.

“What I’m not interested in is a divide,” she said. “What I’m interested in, is figuring out through heart, through compassion, through non-judgment, and through tolerance, how we can get closer together.”

The golden globe winner was also aware that sometimes being labeled a feminist isn’t always a compliment.

“There’s a lot of toxic masculinity,” she said. “But I’ve been called [a feminist] in a very derogatory way. People have said, ‘Oh what are you, one of those?’ Because they’re scared of it. They’re scared of losing power. People don’t understand compassion is power. I feel like a very powerful person. But I feel powerful probably not because of the reasons people think that one is powerful. I feel like compassion is my superpower. I feel that empathy is my superpower. I feel that curiosity is my superpower. I feel like connection is my superpower.”

Mariska Hargitay called playing Olivia Benson the perfect feminist story

Much like Hargitay, her SVU character Olivia Benson has also grown and evolved over the years. Fans have seen her go from co-lead, to the face of SVU after Meloni’s exit in 2011. 

They’ve seen her open up more about her past, and her continued resilience in the face of traumatic situations. They’ve even seen Benson promoted in rank at her job, and exploring motherhood. Celebrating 25 years of SVU, Hargitay couldn’t help look back at her character’s journey in an interview with Today.

“It’s so beautiful to have the privilege to actually watch the evolution,” she said. “As I see it and look back, Olivia Benson is sort of a perfect feminist story because we actually see this woman grow into her power.”

Likewise, Hargitay acknowledged that she’s grown just as much as Olivia Benson has over the years.

“It’s been incredible,” she said. “I was just thinking the other day, because it’s hard to process — everyone’s saying, ’25 years, 25 years.’ I am so grateful for this time in my life, to be present.”

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The subplot about Olivia Benson’s motherhood was an arc that Hargitay advocated after becoming a mother herself. But the showrunners of SVU were initially reluctant to follow through the idea.

“I think that Dick [Wolf] and the powers that be were concerned, obviously, for me being a mother because they didn’t want anything to detract from my job. And yet, this is life. People do both, and we have to figure it out. And I believe there was an earlier story [in season 9] where I wanted to adopt, but was turned down for that reason — it’s understandable that the job would be too dangerous,” Hargitay told Entertainment Weekly.

So, when Hargitay finally got to tackle the story of motherhood within SVU, she was more than thrilled. It didn’t just provide the opportunity to add more depth to Benson. It also demonstrated how working women around the world multi-tasked.

“I was so interested in making the character more complex in that beautiful way that women multitask and do so many jobs,” she said. “It was important to show that — what women do — and the real work. Because being a parent, I think, is the most important thing that we do in our lives.”

How to get help: In the U.S., call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. 

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