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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Is Law & Order: SVU's Detective Olivia Benson the Newest Victim of Single-Shaming?

*Warning: The following contains spoilers from last night's new episode of  
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit *

Years ago, if a single 30-something-year-old woman dared to walk the earth as though her solitude wasn't a major offense to mankind, she'd be ridiculed or, worse, ostracized. I'd like to think we've all grown up since then--especially with career advancement and the ability to become a parent later in life. But apparently we have miles to go before we sleep.

Single women may no longer be seen as pariahs in public, but there are still social instances where they're being relationship-challenged works to their disadvantage. This includes often being the last person to leave the office at night with the assumption that being single should allow them more time to work like a dog. Or, as so concisely lamented on an episode of Sex and the City titled "Bay of Married Pigs," single women are frequently people to be studied and even feared:

Charlotte: I hate it when you're the only single person at a dinner party and they all look at you like you're a...
Carrie: Loser?
Miranda: Leper.
Samantha: Whore. 

I know, it's ridiculous. But it's happening. What's even more shocking, as single female characters have just slightly evolved from being outcasts, is that they're more recently seen as people who anticipate or encourage themselves to be crime victims (something that has lately been coined as "slut-shaming" or "victim shaming"). We've seen it most profoundly in movies like The Accused (1988) starring Jodie Foster and, most recently, in last night's episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

If you missed the episode, which was the first new one since their mid-season finale last month, it was a continuation of the dramatic repercussions of Detective Olivia Benson's (Mariska Hargitay) kidnapping, torture and rape by William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber). The two finally had their day in court with William representing himself in what could only be described as a legal Cirque du Soleil. William all but turned his obvious guilt around to make Olivia seem like the one who was crazy and brought on her self the horrific series of events. He even went so far as to infer that her being single made her more seductive and that she at one point came on to him, thereafter making him her victim.

You've gotta hand it to the lunatic: William is the ultimate spin doctor when it comes to sensitive situations like this one. But it was a difficult episode to watch as he continued to verbally torture and humiliate Olivia on a grand stage in front of all her colleagues. Even with a case as open and shut as this one, things have gotten really complicated. Needless to say, the plot thickens. It will be interesting to see what happens as we delve further into the season 15 saga.

What's most fascinating about Olivia's newest predicament is that Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has over the years really built the show around her character--a strong, independent working woman of New York City who's never been able to hold down a romantic relationship (until now, though feebly) but has the respect of her fellow professionals.Then proceeded to chide her for that very same thing.

It seems contradictory, but it does provide an engrossing trajectory in the course of the show thus far, a show that is at its best a representation of what's happening in the news and mainstream culture. But is it on trend, or is it a rehash of what we've been trying to run away from this whole time? Either way, I can't look away.

What are your thoughts on single-shaming and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit?


Anonymous said...

I thought the spectacular episode. Dialogues well constructed and Pablo had a great performance. Olivia Benson, was built as a strong, independent woman who always put work before love life. So never married. Despite having had several novels. But in several episodes, was pronounced sensuality character when needed. Olivia often served as bait for criminals, with its exotic beauty. In yesterday's episode Mariska had a superb performance. What a great actress she is. She is so talented that asté forget how beautiful she is. Have you ever noticed the beautiful eyes? And in your smile? And mo its curvaceous and sexy body. Olivia Benson, go where she wants. She is powerful.

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