More Characters Should Be Like Olivia Benson

by Emma Goddard

One day, after coming home from shooting a “We Are Better Than This” public service announcement with the likes of Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber, my brother casually told me how he met a woman named Mariska Hargitay. “I didn’t know who she was,” he told me, to which I responded with, “I’m sorry, but you didn’t know who the leading lady of one of THE BEST SHOWS EVER is?” He casually shrugged his shoulders, said he had met her, and then proceeded to walk off. As you can imagine, as an avid fan of Law & Order: SVU who cried upon hearing the news that Detective Stabler would be leaving the show and as Detective Olivia Benson’s best friend in my own head, I couldn’t believe what my brother had just said.

It is important to note that not only should everyone know who Benson is, but that there is a reason why so many women are obsessed with her. Not only does she fight crime and have the ability to rock almost every hairdo on the planet, but she is most likely one of the most inspiring female role models in TV history. There’s a strong possibility that Benson is in fact God — I’m still waiting on that announcement — and more TV producers and writers need to learn from Dick Wolf, who created a female character that every show should model their women after.

She Puts Others Before Herself

While there have been women like Emily Thorne of Revenge, Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones, and Patty Hewes of Damages, many of the female characters we see portrayed on TV are out to enact revenge on those who have somehow wronged them. Although, having been born a product of a rape, it may seem that Benson is simply out to get any men who creep on women, she is actually quite professional when it comes to her job, for the most part leaving her personal baggage out of the way. Whether female, male, child or adult, Benson always takes care of those who come to her, making sure to seek just for them, rather than herself.

Benson Doesn’t Settle For Any Old Guy

When SVU first began, way back in the dark ages, we were introduced to Benson’s relationship with Special Victims Unit member, Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters). The two were not official in the Facebook sense of the word, and unfortunately did not last long through the first season. However, this was a great starting point for Benson’s relationships as we saw her make her way through various men like Nick Ganzer who was a big freakazoid reporter who tried to make her reenact a rape fantasy, and kind heartthrob, Executive Assistant District Attorney, David Haden (Harry Connick Jr.).

Yet through all her relationships, some quirky and others romantically sound, never have we truly seen Benson settle down with a man. Never has she given her whole heart to someone. While that may seem like a negative way of going about relationships and possibly even picky, (we do want the best for her after all) the fact that she puts herself before her significant others is something we should all learn from. Getting involved with a married (high profile) man like Olivia Pope did in Scandal? Nope. Allowing herself to become romantically involved with and ultimately fall in love with something she was investigating like Carrie Mathison did with Nicholas Brody in Homeland? Hells to the no. Although Benson has had her fair share of unstable relationships, she has never let a man stand in the way of her happiness.

She’s Not Afraid To Cry, But When She Does, It’s Rarely Over Men

Everyone who has ever watched SVU knows that Stabler was always the first detective to get hot headed over a case, quick to make a judgment about the suspect and the first to lash out during questioning. He also resorted to keeping his emotions to himself, often leaving his co-workers to wonder what was running through his head. On the other hand, Benson always made her emotions known, allowing herself to cry over certain victims, stepping away if there was a conflict of interest and acting as a support system to those around her.

Benson’s willingness to open up to others and deal with her issues immediately and head on, make her differ from many female TV show characters. Pretty Little Liars, anyone? I still can’t get over the fact that every one of those girls hides secrets from one another despite all the shit they’ve been through together. Smh. Benson takes quite the opposite stance on this, showing women that it’s okay to be scared or feel lonely and that we shouldn’t feel ashamed to admit this to anyone.

Take for instance, the season six episode, Charisma, where Benson and Stabler were forced to face the death of several children who had been shot by Abraham, the leader of a religious cult. After the incident, everyone was forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Huang. While Benson willingly admitted how traumatic everything had been, breaking down into tears and feeling sure she would be unable to continue with the case, she was allowed to proceed while Stabler was told to go home. Why? Because she wasn’t afraid to open up. More women need to follow her lead. I know that I’m notorious for bottling up everything inside until it all comes out in one big overly dramatic tear fest by myself. Definitely not the way to go, and unfortunately, we see many “Emma types” on various TV shows.

Her Clothes Don’t Define Her

The one thing I noticed when Scandal first became popular, was that everyone commented on her clothes and the fact that she always wore white. “Drink every time Olivia Pope is on screen wearing something white” actually became a thing. Never did I hear, “Hey, Emma, you should probably check out this new TV show about this truly empowering woman.” I’m sure people do feel that Scandal is a motivational show for women because Pope does kick some ass, but why is it that this is an afterthought to her keen eye for fashion?

As a woman who is often seen wearing dress pants, v-neck shirts and blazers, — all in neutral colors I might add — Benson’s style (or lack thereof?) doesn’t distract us from getting to know her character first and foremost. Hereplain clothing almost offers the audience a clean slate, especially if you randomly come into a season knowing nothing about Benson or the show. You’re presented with Detective Olivia Benson, rather than “the-officer-in-that-cute-outfit-Benson.”

Let me pour you a hot cup of reality for a second and get down to the nitty gritty when it comes to TV shows about women. No one really loved characters Carrie Bradshaw, did they? We (or I) have fallen in love with Benson because what we see is her honest relationships with victims of crime, the passion she has for her work and occasionally those raw moments with a man she likes. Did everyone watch Sex and the City mainly because they thought, “Yes, I’m loving this Carrie Bradshaw character,” or did we watch it because we vicariously lived through this woman who wrote about sex for a living and somehow managed to afford Jimmy Choos and designer clothing on a journalist’s salary in Manhattan?

Although superficial, there’s a strong chance that many of us would choose the latter. I’m not saying it’s wrong to indulge in watching shows like this, because after all, we all use TV as a form of escape, but if anyone were to play a role model, it should be Benson.

Images: NBC, Tumblr, Tumblr, giphy.com, wordsbynicolefroio, BET