The Ubiquitous Oppression Of A Silently Suffering Minority – Gate Eye Mush Sheen – Jan 11

Like 8-15% of the planet (or perhaps twice as much depending on some definitions and locations), I am left-handed.

What does this mean?

Definitions of handedness vary. In America it’s usually determined solely by the hand with which one writes, but many factors – with which hand we use a corkscrew, a can-opener, scissors, power-tools, etc. – can determine ones handedness.

So What?

So commonplace is our cultural discrimination against left-handedness (or in scientific terms non-right-handedness or NRH) most, especially the right-handed, don’t think for a second about the overwhelming bias southpaws face.

Linguistic History
The Latin for left or left-handed is sinistra; a left-handed person was sinistral. Obviously from this was derived the term sinister – left-handedness became associated with devil worship, witchcraft, and being evil. Latin is the root of many languages cumulatively spoken by roughly half the planet including:

English (~ 508 million speakers) Right means “correct” or “morally correct”, while left is always coupled with a negative sentiment – “we got what was left“; “we were left behind“; “all we have right now is left-overs.

Spanish (~ 417 million speakers) diestro is used as both “right-handed” and as “skillful”, whereas siniestra is used as both “left-handed” and “clumsy.” I think more commonly, izquierda is used to for left or left-handed, and to do something “por izquierda” is to do something corruptly or to be corrupt.

French (~ 200 million speakers) droit(e) is used as right, both in a directional and “correct” sense, whereas “gauche” means left and left-handed, but also tacky (as “that dress is so gauche). Also, to be maladroit is to be literally “not right” or “bad at being right.”

Portuguese (~ 200 million speakers) canhoto is a left-handed person, but was also a reference to The Devil. Similarly, canhestro means “clumsy.”

German (~ 160 million speakers) recht means both “right” directionally and “correct”, but the word for “left” (link) also conveys dishonesty or treachery in a person.

That’s over a billion people speaking a language with overt biases! Something tells me speakers of languages of different families don’t fare much better. Also, more complex expressions like “having two left feet” abound in English and other languages. I also want to point out that the latin for right, dex, (a right-hander is a dexter) also presents a bias in a phrase like “ambidextrous” – it means a person has “both right hands” or literally that “both of his/her hands are good enough to be right hands.”

Well, That’s Not Such A Big Deal.

Unfortunately, the systematic bias of the left-handed extends beyond words. Because left-handedness was literally considered wicked, the left-handed were forced to use their right hand, sometimes by binding the left hand to the body. My uncle, for instance, had his left hand slapped whenever he tried to reach for anything with it. These practices are less common today, but the overall situation for us isn’t so bright. Starting at early school age, all things are designed for the right-handed: desks, scissors, mice, everything.

It doesn’t get better in the adult world, either.

Work tools designed for the left-handed – from scissors to dangerous, industrial machines – are often not provided. Sometimes such an adapted alternative is available, but is discouraged from being used by management because it means an extra thing to maintain: think left-handed ice cream scoops or french fry scoops. Thus, left-handed people are more likely to be burned scooping french fries out of a fryer than a right-handed person. We’re often not given a left-handed alternative, so in their absence we have to make due with the right-handed version, with which we’re innately handicapped. This makes us less productive, less able to perform our jobs, and as such more likely to be fired. Southpaws are being discriminated economically.

Outside of the workplace is also less than fair. When eating with my friends, I am literally expected to eat on the end of the table so my eating elbow doesn’t bump into anyone else – I am the only one expected to do this, ever. Whether we realize it or not, cars, power-tools, virtually all things are designed for the right-handed. As a result, left-handed people live shorter lives on average than right-handed people – more accidents happen as a result of trying to adapt to a right-handed world.

The fact is, we were born left-handed; we didn’t choose it. Right-handedness is considered the default handedness, but this is not the case. Left-handedness is not a deviation from “normal, healthy right-handedness.” Linguistic biases toward southpaws need to be evaluated and changed immediately. More urgently, an amount of left-handed alternatives to all tools and utensils need to be made (available) to reflect the amount of left-handed people in society. It is a big deal. It’s a ubiquitous oppression that shouldn’t be tolerated, so I’m bringing it to the attention of the world.


One thought on “The Ubiquitous Oppression Of A Silently Suffering Minority – Gate Eye Mush Sheen – Jan 11

  1. Pingback: Andrew Tobias Writing as John Reid | What Queer Folks Should Be Reading

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