“I just want to remind and to bring everybody on this journey of owning what we are instead of hiding it,” Hargitay tells PEOPLE.

About three-quarters of the way through PEOPLE’s cover shoot, “The Man” by Taylor Swift starts to play.

Mariska Hargitay perks up instantly.

“I love this song!” she says, beaming. And she does — she knows nearly every word.

For the next 3 minutes and 10 seconds, she delivers a dissertation (in between singing the lyrics) to the photographer snapping her picture on why the song is “so important.”

As the track finishes, she implores the photographer — a man — to really listen to it again later. He’s enthralled by Hargitay, and he agrees, much to her content.

I love Taylor Swift so much. I love what she stands for. I love her music. It’s been an anthem for all ages,” says the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star after the photoshoot. “I think she is a magnificent creature on this planet and such an important cultural soul.”

Hargitay now famously has a cat named “Karma” in honor of Swift’s hit song (which also soundtracked the photoshoot), and she appeared in Swift’s “Bad Blood” video in 2015.

She also attended Swift’s Eras Tour twice over the summer and has talked about trading Swift’s trademark friendship bracelets.

While chatting with PEOPLE, Hargitay references “The Man” again in conversation about her mother Jayne Mansfield, and then a third time, talking ultimately about her own experiences.

“We think that we have to — as women — apologize, be small, be this, be that. That’s why I love that song. ‘If I was a man, I’d be the man’ because they have traditionally been given permission to shine, to be strong, to enter the race, and we haven’t been,” she says. “And it’s like, ‘Sweetheart, guess what? I’m in the race and I could be winning! And guess what? I don’t feel bad!’”

Hargitay turns 60 on Ja. 23 (a milestone that has her overflowing with excitement at just the mention), but she admits that all the courage she possesses at this point in her life hasn’t come without constant work.