To the left, to the left

Do left-handed people deserve their own social justice movement?

21st August 2018

There’s a social justice movement for almost everything, these days. From widely-known issues such as LGBT+ rights and feminism to nicher ones like discrimination against atheists in the US, many important topics are receiving awareness and recognition. However, there is one group of people who remain overlooked: left-handers.

Making up just 10% of the population, left-handed people are forced to get by in a world that is largely catered to the right-handed. But, do they deserve a social justice movement?

Discrimination through time

Throughout history, the right hand has always been seen as the “correct” one (hence, “right” hand) and the left, the “wrong” one. For thousands of years, left-handers have been accused of “consorting with the devil”, and during the Inquisition and Salem witch trials, being left-handed was enough to condemn a woman to death.

Medieval castles and other ancient buildings were designed by right-handers, for right-handers, and spiral staircases almost always spiralled in the clockwise direction, giving right-handed swordsmen a distinct advantage, as they could strike downwards at the enemy better. If you were a left-handed defender, it was tough luck.

In the 19th century, left-handed oppression and discrimination became institutionalised. School children were disciplined against writing with their left hands, with punishments including having them tied to the backs of their chairs or caned until they could no longer write with them. Famed Italian physician and criminologist Cesare Lambroso associated left-handedness with savagery and criminality, stating, “Criminals are more often left-handed than honest men, and lunatics are more sensitively left-sided than either of the other two” — a belief that has largely been discredited over the past several decades.

Discrimination persisted well into the 20th century, with left-handed people being labelled ‘stubborn’ and ‘rebellious’

It wasn’t until the late ’60s when people started looking at left-handedness with a scientific mind. Serious studies in the ’70s showed that being left-handed was as natural as being right-handed.

However, discrimination persisted well into the 20th century, with left-handed people being labelled “stubborn” and “rebellious”, and left-handedness developing connotations of communism — hence, the lyric from Simon and Garfunkel’s A Simple Desultory Phippic: “I been Ayn Randed, nearly branded / Communist, ’cause I’m left-handed / That’s the hand I use, well, never mind.”

It’s odd that left-handedness was connected with communism in some countries, as the communist countries of the Eastern Bloc maintained strict policies against left-handed people.

left handed
There was only one stock image of a left-handed person writing

In modern times

As late as 2001, left-handedness was still designated by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder, and parents of left-handed children often demanded shock therapy as a treatment for their left-handed offspring.

Left-handed people taught to write with their right hand are prone to developing stutters

These days, left-handedness isn’t a super-big deal in the West. However, in Asian counties like China and Japan, school-children are still pressured to write with their right hand. This is largely due to the fact that traditional Chinese writing symbols are easier to draw this way and writing with the left hand causes ink to smudge when the hand moves along the page.  Less than 1% of students in China are reported as being left-handed, whereas the worldwide average is 10-12%.

Those who are taught to write with their right hand when they are naturally left-handed can suffer learning difficulties such as dyslexia and are prone to developing stutters.

Some things left-handed people can’t do in a right-handed world

Guns are designed to be fired using the right hand. Bullet casings discharge to the right so that they are in no danger of hitting the user — if that user is right-handed. The only firearm a leftie can comfortably use is a revolver, because the bullet casing does not discharge.

Guitars are designed to be played with the right hand because the majority of guitar players are right-handed. This presents a bit of a problem for left-handed players, who either have to pay for a specialist left-handed guitar — which costs a considerable amount more than your regular rightie one — or play a typical guitar the wrong way around and use the strings in reverse.

Workplace machinery in industry — including most power tools — is geared towards right-handers

Most scissors are designed for the right-handed. Left-handed people have their own special scissors which can often be found in schools but rarely in the workplace as an adult. On top of this, workplace machinery in industry — including most power tools — is geared towards right-handers and always has been.

Fold-out desks on the chairs in university lecture rooms are typically designed for the right-handed. Sitting on a chair with a fold-out desk is annoying enough (they’re usually loose and easily collapsed by any amount of force, ugh), but they’re considerably worse when you’re left-handed. Left-handed people are forced to choose between struggling with their right hand or leaning over, uncomfortably, for an entire exam.

It’s not all bad

Left-handers are also more likely to be geniuses, apparently — though this fact is often disputed (probably by right-handers, those oppressive bastards). Aristotle, Barack Obama and Marie Curie were all left-handers. This is due to their brains being wired slightly differently, giving them an edge when it comes to maths and problem-saving.

Among the Incas of pre-Columbian America, lefties were revered and referred to as “lloq’e”, which had a positive value. Peoples of the Andes consider left-handers to possess special spiritual abilities, including magic and healing.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney said he had been left-handed since birth

Right-handers struggle in sport when their opponent is a leftie, whether it be cricket, boxing, tennis or even football. Left-handed people have an advantage because the right-hander will probably have practised and played against those of the same hand, and so they are easily thrown off by the change the leftie brings, while left-handed people are experienced in competing with right-handed people because they make up the majority of opponents.

An organisation called The Left Handers Club is the closest thing lefties have to a social justice cause, gaining ground when former Beatle Paul McCartney said he had been left-handed since birth and donated money to their cause. In 1992, lefthanders got an official day dedicated to them — 13 August — increasing awareness of the discrimination left-handers faced.

It’s about time someone spoke up about this

While it’s fair to say that the discrimination faced by left-handed people isn’t as dire as that endured by many minorities, people often forget that left-handers exist in this right-handed world, making much of it rather inaccessible to them or, at least, making their lives considerably harder than it is for right-handed folk.

History has not been too kind to the left-handed. While things have improved, left-handed people are often left by the wayside by a society that revolves around those who use the “correct” hand. Lefties have been around for thousands of years and they’re not going anywhere, so it’s about time we recognise them.

21st August 2018