O'Donnell gushed about the 28-year-old actress and writer in a SiriusXM satellite radio "Town Hall" interview, posted on YouTube on Friday.
"It's really hard for me, as a 53-year-old who was raised with the feminist movement and with Our Bodies, Ourselves, to see that there is no Gloria in the wings," she said. "Until God gave us Lena Dunham."
"And I really feel as though, you know, she is the embodiment of...like, she's like the child of Gloria Steinem, right, or the grandchild even," the comedienne and former co-host of The View continued. "And I look at her and it makes me tear up to see her advocacy for women's rights and women's issues and representing women on television in a realistic, contemporary way."
Steinem, 81, was one of the most famous faces of the women's movement in the '60s and '70s. She co-founded of Ms. magazine and is a pro-choice and pro-gender equality activist.
Girls focuses on four 20-something-year-old female BFFs, with different personalities and body types, who live in New York City and support each other through all kinds of drama, especially the kind involving boys and just, you know, everyday life.
The series features a lot of nudity, mainly on Dunham's part, and it isn't always depicted in a sexual way. The recent season 4 finale showed her ex-boyfriend's pregnant sister, played by then-real life pregnant actress Gaby Hoffmann, preparing to give birth while laying stark naked in a bathtub.
"When I first saw that show, as the mother of children around that age, it was terrifying, right, but then I was like, 'Oh my God, look what she is doing,'" O'Donnell said.
Steinem has seen and commented on the show.
"I only saw the first couple episodes of Girls, so I can't speak to all of it, but I think it was much more realistic as to how girls look and dress and talk, and that all sex is not wonderful," she told Buzzfeed in 2013. "Some of it is silly and boring. It felt much more realistic to me."
"I am so relieved to see real people saying real words and wearing real clothes," she told Vulture that year. "I think the more rebellious we become politically and economically in our lives, the more society tries to tell us that there's something wrong with us," Steinem said. "In order to sort of say, 'Well, it's your fault. If you looked different, if you weighed less...' It is part of the backlash."
She and Dunham have not commented on O'Donnell's remarks.
Dunham is a big fan of Steinem and has tweeted about her in the past.
Rihanna and Chris Brown's new duets make me want to go hide under Gloria Steinem's bed for 72 hours? Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) February 25, 2012
She had said in her 2014 book of personal essays, titled Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned," that Steinem and late writer and director Nora Ephron, known for beloved romcoms such as When Harry Met Sally..., were among "the women who would come to guide me."
"I'm such a big fan of her and her work," Dunham said about Steinem in an interview with NPR radio station WHYY. "And you know, I read about her like, celebrating her 80th birthday riding elephants and just thought, 'That's my kind of lady.'"
She added that she thinks many young women are misinformed about what feminism means.
"They think it means, you know, growing out your armpit hair and burning your bras and storming through the streets with a, you know, skewer, ready to get men," she said. "What it actually means is that you believe in human rights and you believe that, you know, women should be fairly compensated for the jobs that they do and that they should be given the same opportunities and that they shouldn't be discriminated against or hurt because of their gender and that's what feminism is."
"And I think that there isn't a right way to do it," she added. "There are more women than there have ever been before and each one is unique and there's a lot of ways to express your femaleness and I think that we can't limit each other in that department. All we can do is support each other."