The Next Chapter·Proust Questionnaire

Why 2019 CBC Massey Lecturer Sally Armstrong is drawn to incredible women in literature and real-life

The Montreal-born journalist and human rights activist takes The Next Chapter's version of the Proust Questionnaire.
Power Shift is a nonfiction book by Sally Armstrong. (Peter Bregg, House of Anansi Press)

Montreal-born author, journalist and human rights activist Sally Armstrong was the 2019 CBC Massey Lecturer.

In her lectures, titled Power Shift, she argues that improving the status of women is crucial to our collective surviving and thriving. According to Armstrong, when women are able to access better education and healthcare, it's a winning scenario for all of humanity.

Armstrong dropped by The Next Chapter to take its version of the Proust Questionnaire.

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.

My very favourite is a fictionalized version of Josephine Bonaparte. It comes in a book called The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows Of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland. She's a woman who was at the hands of a powerful man. The book allows you to see that she was cunning, strategic, smart and very kind. I found her to be every woman's woman.

What phrase do you most overuse?

After listening to myself deliver five Massey Lectures on the radio, I would say the word 'well' is something I should try to avoid for all of the rest of my life.

After listening to myself deliver five Massey Lectures on the radio, I would say the word 'well' is something I should try to avoid for all of the rest of my life.- Sally Armstrong

What is your principal defect?

That one's easy: I always think something is going to work out in spite of evidence to the contrary. 

Where would you like to live?

Near my children on a beach, minutes away from a theatre and maybe a half hour's drive from a ski hill.

Journalist Sally Armstrong draws on history for a broad perspective on the status of women -- and why after centuries of inequity, this past decade has seen a breakthrough in women's status. She is the 2019 CBC Massey lecturer. 7:51

Who are your favourite characters in history?

Catherine the Great. But maybe that's because the great Helen Mirren has just brought her to life for all of us. But you know there's Christine de Pizan; she's the French-Italian author who started the struggle for women's rights in 1405. And then, of course, Olympe de Gouges who was the French playwright who demanded in 1791 that French women have the same rights as French men. These were fascinating women.

What is your greatest regret?

Needing to spend time with people who are mean. Without naming names, there are times in your life that you have to be with those people. That would be a regret for me.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? 

The work I do takes me to meet women and girls in zones of conflict. These women that I write about are so often being abused, tortured and denied by the men in their lives. The terrible part is to understand that there is no escape route for them — and not even anyone to believe them.

The work I do takes me to meet women and girls in zones of conflict.- Sally Armstrong

What is your favourite occupation?

Chasing a story that needs to be told. It begins always at the beginning, when you're wondering if you can convince someone to let you go after that story. But that's only the start; then you have to find it. You have to hope you're going to find people who are going to help you to tell that story.

What is your favourite journey?

I would have to say the one that gets me to that story.

Sally Armstrong:'Women's history is flawed' 3:10

Sally Armstrong's comments have been edited for length and clarity.


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