Gloria Steinem tells Lena Dunham why crying at work is powerful

The feminist icon was interviewed for Dunham's "Lenny Letter"

Published October 16, 2015 6:06PM (EDT)

Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem

Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter has had some pretty interesting content so far, but our favorite piece yet is today's intimate interview with feminist icon Gloria Steinem, which manages to cover rich emotional ground while discussing everything from snacks and cursing to power outfits and the patriarchy. Here are some of the most illuminating moments:

On the power of crying at work

After Dunham confesses that she finds her tendency to cry when she is angry “really embarrassing,” Steinem encourages her to embrace the power of a good old sob-fest.

"We try to stay in control too long and then burst out," Steinem explains. "Instead of saying what we're angry about in a reasonable way, suddenly we just explode. A woman who was an executive told me once that she got angry in work situations where she needed to get angry, cried, and just kept talking through it. She had mostly men working for her, so it wasn't so easy to be understood. And she would just say to them, 'I am crying because I'm angry. You may think I'm sad. I am not sad. This is the way I get angry.' And I've always wanted to do that. It's still my goal.”

When Dunham goes on to tell Steinem how crying in front of a male coworker makes her feel embarrassed and wrong, Steinem adds: "Why don't you do what I can't do? To say: 'This is how I get angry. I am crying because I'm angry. Because I am crying, I will live longer than you.'”

On her power outfit:

Charged with describing the outfit that makes her feel like "the queen of business and a rad bitch," Steinem responds: "Boots, pants, a sweater or a T-shirt. A concha belt. Something that's Native American or Indian, or something that has a resonance from the past before patriarchy came along."

While some on Twitter have criticized Steinem for cultural appropriation (not to mention her complicated assertion that patriarchy didn't exist in other cultures), others have argued it's not so simple. as Ana Colon over at Refinery 29 points out "Although the style can be traced back to the Navajo, it's now also a part of Zuni craftsmanship. Steinem herself works with and advocates for Native American women, and has long considered pre-colonial American communities to have inspired women's suffrage. (Read this if you don't see the difference between this and costume-store war bonnets at music festivals.)"

On her hero, Sojourner Truth

Asked to describe the last text message she received, Steinem shared a wonderful anecdote that included a shout-out to her hero, African-American abolitionist and woman's rights activist Sojourner Truth.

"[The text] was from [actress] Kathy Najimy," Steinem explained. "She's wonderful. She'd been texting me trying to find the park bench she and others had given me. Kathy organized it. It has a plaque on it. It's to me and to Sojourner Truth, who said, 'Until we're all free, no one is free.' She's my hero, Sojourner Truth. So she was looking for that, and I didn't see her text. She kept looking, looking, looking, and finally, she found it and sent me a photograph. With the text."

Non-Lenny subscribers can rest of the interview in full over at Elle.

By Anna Silman

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Gloria Steinem Lena Dunham