Graphic by Zoe Hu/The Gazelle
You may or may not have heard about handism, a prejudice or discrimination based on whether a person is left-handed or right-handed. Perhaps you have been treated differently based on your own hand of preference, or experienced difficulty in everyday life. If not, chances are you are right-handed.
About 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed, and the reality of our struggles is often unknown, or just difficult to relate to. We live in a hierarchical world in which some people are systematically subjugated. Our pre-determined norms dictate what is desirable and undesirable in society.
The English Dialect Survey found just two words for right-handedness and 87 for left-handedness, many of which are derogatory. Left-handers are more likely to stutter, are more accident-prone and show more signs of delinquent behavior.
However, the struggles of the left-handed are not due to our inherent evil or our relationship with the devil, but rather the mundane challenges we face living in a right-handed world.
It may be natural for you to think of right-handedness as the norm but to me, and many like me, that standard is unattainable. Research has shown that transitions from right-handedness to left-handedness can have some success. Wrongly believing that the opposite is possible has fueled pressure for left-handers to convert from early childhood.
However, there is little evidence for successful transition from left-handedness to right-handedness early in childhood or later in adulthood. Even for the few that do transition, hand functionality is decreased. Nonetheless, society keeps making us change our so-called devilish ways.
The left-handed community cannot conform to a right-handed standard, but not for lack of trying. In fact, given an ability to successfully switch their dominant hand, most left-handed people would joyfully choose to fit in and avoid the difficulties they experience. Unable to do so, they regularly face the discomfort of being different.
In my experience, people blamed me for being left-handed. Growing up, it was really hard to convey to people that I did not choose to be this way. My elementary school teacher often pressured me, once throwing my notebook across the classroom after my many failed attempts to write with my right hand like the other kids.
As an authority figure, my teacher’s abuse justified other’s stigmatization and bullying. Sitting next to friends was always torture. We always inconveniently elbowed each other, and this constantly made my right-handed peers angrier with me. I was immediately singled out as the weird kid in class. It felt like some kind of label of disability was placed onto my forehead.
Although it got better once I realized I was not alone, it did not make everyday life easier. In fact, activities that could easily be facilitated for left-handed individuals are left unnecessarily impractical, simply because the world forgets about our existence. This includes taking standardized tests, using spiral notebooks, binders, scissors, right-handed heavy machinery — the list goes on. The most detrimental is the psychological pressure that a right-hand-normative society exerts on us to change and conform.
However, by not taking us into consideration, the world loses out on the proven creativity, innovation and strength that we possess and must possess, considering how we are forced to navigate a world designed to work against us. There are many like us. Chances are, your favorite artist or celebrity is a part of this community, though you may not know it. After all, it’s not a fact we’re encouraged to advertise.
Where does this discrimination come from, you might wonder? Why did we make right-handed the right way to be? It’s not because it’s a better hand, or because writing is better when you use it.
The Chapter of Revelation in the Bible says that God will separate the lambs on his right hand from the goats on his left hand. Plot twist: the lambs go to heaven, and the goats go to hell. This passage is in reference to hand gesticulation when a person is talking. A person talking with their left hand was believed to be lying or misleading the audience. People extended this to mean that the use of the left hand was generally evil, even though the Bible never says so explicitly.
Such superstition is present in other religions too, although their scriptures never explicitly condemn left-handed people either. In some cultures, this belief is justified because the left hand is used for cleaning the behind after using the bathroom, thus making it an inappropriate hand for other activities. Really, world?
Despite all this discouraging evidence, the proportion of reported left-handers in the population has risen in the past century. Now, people may truly let their individuality shine through, which in turn increases the efficiency and creativity of those who were previously forced to conform.
I have one message to the left-handers out there: growing up the way you are might be hard. You might want to give up under all the pressure, but it gets better. Keep writing the way you do because there’s nothing wrong about it.
And to all the right-handers, I pose another question: will you be an ally? Will you help end this nonsensical discrimination?