"When the women's movement started, there was not even a term called domestic violence," the 80-year-old activist said in an interview. "It was just called life."
International human rights organization Equality Now announced Wednesday it will honour Steinem for her six decades of work for women's rights. Actress Salma Hayek Pinault will also be recognized for her efforts to end violence against women and girls at the organization's gala fundraiser Nov. 3 in Beverly Hills.
"When we think of violence against women, for instance, we understandably think mainly of other countries, where the degree of violence is much higher," Steinem said. "But what is also true is that if you added up all the women who have been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends since 9-11, and then you add up all the Americans who were killed by 9-11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq, more women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends."
Department of Justice statistics show as many as a third of female murder victims are killed by intimate partners.
As the nation discusses domestic violence, Steinem urges people to consider that "the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is about to escape or has just escaped" from an abuser.
"That's by far the time she's most likely to be murdered," she said. "And yet we say to women, 'Why don't you leave?'"
Steinem said she admires Hayek Pinault, her fellow Equality Now honoree, for both her artistic and activist work. And Steinem gained a new appreciation for acting work after shooting a cameo for TV's "The Good Wife."
"For the first time in my life, I had to say lines and meet marks on the floor," she said. "It was so much harder than I imagined. I have new respect for anyone who does that."
Follow Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .