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Last Updated: Monday, 13 August 2007, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
The Left-Handed Liberation Front
Left-handed people

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

They've been called the "last neglected minority" and their numbers are rising. But with recent evidence showing left-handers to be more creative, better at sport and even financially better off, why do they need a day of action?

The simplest of everyday tasks - using scissors, opening a microwave oven or peeling a potato - are all reminders to left-handers that this is a world designed for others.

And now this frustration is reaching a new level. With the number of left-handed people growing - as schools reject enforced right-handedness - so is their sense of identity and grievance.

They won't be marking Left-Handers' Day on Monday by mounting street barricades and shouting through megaphones. But its organisers say the day does hold an important message about the difficulties the one in eight so-called sinistral people in the UK encounter every day.

We don't sit in the corner and say 'That doesn't work.' We think outside the box
Lauren Milsom
Left-Handed Club
"We are finding more and more people are choosing to speak out," says Lauren Milsom of the Left-Handed Club, which has nearly 60,000 members.

"People are finding a voice about it more. Until 20 years ago, people would be quite quiet about being left-handed. It wasn't something you shouted about. We wouldn't be militant about it, but now people are saying 'hold on, this doesn't work for me and I'm not happy about it'."

The very language of left-handedness is pejorative, with "gauche", "sinister" and "awkward" among the broad translations from French, Latin and German, compared with the right's "adroit" and "dextrous". But it is the practical difficulties that bother left-handers the most.


"They are not life-threatening, they are unnecessary frustrations, difficulties which you shouldn't have to worry about," says Mrs Milsom.

Scientists say there has been a higher incidence of stuttering, dyslexia, autism and breast cancer among left-handers
But many excel in sports like tennis, baseball, cricket and swimming
"Irritations and frustrations but in every day. As well as complaining about things, it's good to have a day when we celebrate the positive things about left-handedness."

These include creative and sporting prowess, a theory given added weight by the likes of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brian Lara, John McEnroe and Diego Maradona. Scientists have linked handedness to the different functions of the brain's right and left hemispheres.

Three of the last four US presidents have been left-handed (George Bush Junior, being the odd man out), while research from the US National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that among graduates the earning power of left-handed men is 15% greater than that of men who are right-handed.

Bill Clinton and Jimi Hendrix
King George VI, George Bush Snr, Bill Clinton, Reagan
Napoleon, Alexander the Great
Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rubens
JS Bach, Jimi Hendrix
Pele, Maradona
Robert de Niro, Nicole Kidman
Hardly evidence of persecution, it could be said. But Mrs Milsom believes part of the reason why left-handed people succeed is because of the obstacles put in their path.

"The big advantage to being left-handed is that you have to overcome situations organised against you, so you become adaptable. You think around things and you think outside the box: 'That doesn't work for me so how can I make it work for me?' It's a good trait to have."

But with all the different kinds of adversity faced by people today, is a day of action really necessary?

"I think we still need to have a day. It's a kind of tongue-in-cheek day. Rather than have a big event in London, our members are doing things more personally, creating a 'lefty zone' in the office, kitchen or schoolroom and every right-handed person has to perform tasks in that area. It's a bit of fun but gets the point across."

The number of left-handers has increased steadily since 1910, when it was thought there were only 3% in Western society, and schoolchildren were forced to use their right hands. The fact there are now 13% in the UK suggests a weakening of the taboo.

Mrs Milsom's husband, Keith, who owns the shop Anything Left-Handed, says his father Reg had his knuckles rapped with a ruler at school in the 1930s if he wrote with his left hand. The teacher even tied his left arm to his chair. The experience brought on a stutter.

"What we see now is not teachers being anti-left-hand but being apathetic and not knowing how to help left-handers.

"They're told to sit at the back of the class and get on with it, whereas simple instruction about how to hold the pen and the paper can help."


Although the stigma and the prejudice have gone, campaigners want proper records kept in schools on the numbers of left-handed pupils and help in writing and providing left-handed equipment like scissors.

E-petition ragout
The case for left-handers has gone right to the top
But there could be more serious consequences from ignoring the needs of left-handers.

In March, a strongly-worded e-petition was submitted to Downing Street calling upon the government to apologise for the continued oppression of left-handed people and "to legislate to end the discrimination - particularly in the manufacture of tools - that causes thousands of needless injuries to left-handed people every year". It collected a fairly unimpressive 44 signatures.

Making power saws and microwaves for right-handed people puts the health and safety of 10% of the population at risk, says Professor Chris McManus, author of Right Hand, Left Hand.

He has described left-handed people as the "last neglected minority".

A selection of your comments appears below.

I had polio as a baby and was in hospital initially for 10 months. When I went in to hospital I was apparently using my left hand (like my two older brothers) but whilst incarcerated, my left hand was tied behind my back to make me use my right hand. Who knows what damage this did, if any? A graphologist I met was horrified when I told her but apparently this was standard practice in the 50s.
Jane Shepherd, Manchester

Hurray, I`m finally in a minority
Stoo, Lancashire, UK

I am left handed since birth 47 years ago, and I have never experienced any problems or discrimination, cannot see what all the fuss is about...........
Terry Hitchins, Barnstaple, UK

Oh, come on! There are a lot of things that use the left side more than the right, and right handers don't ask for them to be changed! I am right handed, but can write left handed, and I am certain that if I practised I could write left handed almost as well. The fact is that some tools (including writing) can be done easier with the right hand than the left, - so USE the right hand! After all, playing the piano uses both hands equally, as does playing the guitar. When playing stringed instruments that use a bow, the left hand does MORE work! I never heard of a right handed cellist insisting that it had been designed for a left hander! I sometimes think the old fashioned way of insisting that we all learn to write with the right hand is the right way, given that writing is designed that way. However, if a child insists on using the left hand, let them do that, but at least give them an incentive to try writing right handed first! It's all about co-ordination, or are some left handers incapable of this?
PJ, W. Yorks, UK

When I was at junior school in the 70s only one male teacher would constantly straighten my paper when I was writing as most left-handed people need the paper to be at an angle. I was very young and tried to write his way but struggled. The thought of getting into trouble was terrifying. My daughter is left handed and going into the juniors this new term and I will make sure she is not treated the same way.
Angela Hulbert, Upminster, Essex

My husband and I are both left handed, yet our two children are right handed. I have the mouse to the right of the computer, whereas my husband uses the mouse on the left hand side. We both have left handed cheque books, this really confuses right handed counter staff! Have there been any studies regarding choice of profession for left handers? I'm a librarian and in some libraries in which I have worked there has been a high proportion of lefthanders. My husband is a surveyor and he's noticed that many surveyors and architects are left handed. In our first house we had the kitchen designed for left handed use, for example, the single drainer was on the left hand side, there was more worktop space to the left of the cooker.
Madeleine, Whitton, Middx. England

I agree with the dangers of left handedness... I have been looking for a set of sharp kitchen knives for some time now and all the best sets are right-handed... take a look at the blade on your knives, they are inevitably angled for right handed use, this makes cutting upside down a very dangerous pastime for us lefties.
William Murray, Glasgow, Scotland

I've found that lots of public IT facilities e.g. internet cafes, public libraries, have the mouse on the right hand side with the lead too short to move over to the left hand side!!
Kim, Dartford

As a left-hander, I can't tell you the number of times I've tried to open a microwave oven and failed, had serious trouble trying to cut a piece of paper with Facist-inspired scissors, or even tied my hands in a knot trying to sign a reciept with a chained pen in a bank. It's a miracle most left-handed people make it through the day without serious injury. I think the government should consider tax credits to compensate us for the daily oppression and disadvantage we have to undergo. Thank goodness organisations such as the Left-Handed Club exist to raise awareness of our suffering.
Lucy Martin, Berkshire

I bought my son left-handed scissors for school, and always made sure his teacher realised he was left handed and would struggle sitting next to a right handed person as they would knock elbows when writing. My son's writing is fairly untidy and says he finds it hard to write from the left margin as the page becomes crumpled. Things are easier in high school where he can type assignments rather then write them. In soccer he kicks with both left and right legs which makes him a bit of a whizz. He is definitely a problem solver, and has not yet found a situation difficult because of his left-handedness - except writing. His electric guitar is a left handed version, and his music book written for left-handed people, so in that regard I feel he has been catered for. There seems to be a growing awareness of the needs of left-handed people.
Debra Curtis, Brisbane Australia

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