The 81-year-old feminist, writer and activist on having a depressed mother, her fear of public speaking, and Beyonc

The idea of being a feminist wasnt present in the culture I grew up in. I thought I might be able to escape a female fate as an individual, but I didnt understand it was possible to change the fate itself. That only became clear to me, thanks to other women, in the late 1960s.

My mother loved words. She knew a lot of poetry by heart. She had been a writer before I was born, though I didnt know that till I was in my teens. Because she had given up her life [to raise a family] she was very depressed often, and unable to function. In many ways I feel Im living out her unlived life.

I used to be a pretty girl, if I made an effort. But I was never considered beautiful until I was a [well-known] feminist. Then I became aware of the reductionist commentary on what a feminist looks like, and this attitude that if you were pretty enough to get a man, why would you want equal pay?

Many things touch me, make me well up with tears. I have to stop talking, or somehow feel it for awhile, before I start again.

When women dont see themselves represented in culture, their confidence diminishes. Research on young male and female achievers showed that a womans intellectual self-esteem diminishes with every year of higher education she undertakes, because she increasingly studies womens absence from history. If you looked at research isolating race, it would probably be the same.

Anything I can dance to makes me happy. It has to have a danceable rhythm, and I am old-fashioned enough to like understandable lyrics.

I hate conflict. It makes my stomach drop still. And I never got over my fear of public speaking.

At least female comics exist now. There were very few until the 60s. They usually had to depend on stereotypes in order to be acceptable in their humour. The power to make people laugh is a power in and of itself. Its absolutely crucial.

I find it extraordinary that Beyonc, in her video Formation, managed to accumulate so many profoundly different kinds of images. She didnt only use sensuous images, or those of poverty, or high fashion.Putting them all into one song was unifying, healing. And so was admitting, not trying to conceal, the painful.

The womens movement globally is still perceived as separate from other world events. Yet the single biggest indicator of whether a country is violent in itself, or would be violent militarily, is not poverty, access to natural resources, religion or even degree of democracy, its violence against females. Thats what normalises other violence.

As a child I escaped into books. My idea of reading was that I started a book and kept going all night until I finished it. Also, there was a lake across the road from our house, and I loved the life of that water, catching turtles, seeing a storm as it approached.

Im a night person. Definitely.

Heres what Id advise a teenage girl: do not listen to me listen to yourself, the unique voice inside you. Do what you love so much you forget what time it is while youre doing it. Trust your instincts. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck but you think its a pig, its a pig. To a teenage boy Id give the same advice.