The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Doors, scissors—woes of ‘lefties’

3 min read

As a kindergartener, Ben Azelmo wrote backwards in notebooks, “like Benjamin Franklin.”

The 22-year-old Germanna student didn’t flip his notebooks to emulate the founding father, though.  As a left-handed child, Azelmo had trouble writing in spiral notebooks, which his hand would crush whenever he used them.

This trait, which 10 percent of Americans have, helped earn Azelmo a spot on his high school fencing team.

“We have the advantage,” Azelmo said.

Right-handed fencers are often not accustomed to dueling someone using their opposite hand, according to Anything Left Handed (ALH), an awareness website and store for left-handed people.

Likewise, ALH states that a “lefty” typically has more experience playing right-handed players and as such are used to their method of play.

However, every culture views left-handedness differently.

According to BBC News, Sudanese Muslims use their left hands as little as possible,  because they are considered “unclean”.
Assistant Professor of Sociology Leslie Martin experienced another cultural difference while studying in China after college. An African man noticed her using her left hand and approached her curiously.

“[He] asked me “how life was for me” since I was left-handed,” Martin said.   “I said I thought it was fine, and he expressed to me concern about his sister who was left-handed, and how worried he was that life would be hard for her. It blew my mind.”

Stigmas are also present in language alone, as synonyms for “left-handed” include awkward, sinister, clumsy and insincere, according to

Senior Matthew Holden said being left-handed gives him something to complain about, since society seems to be against left-handers, also known as “southpaws.”

“Gauche and sinister both mean left originally,” Holden said.  “Coincidence? No.”

The Handedness Research Institute, created to spread scientific understanding of all manual preferences, said that it is a bad idea to force a child to use his or her less skilled hand, although this was a common practice in America up until recently.

Previously, teachers would tie student’s hands behind their back or hit them with rulers to prevent the taboo writing.

“When I was little, my teachers tried to make me be right-handed, but my parents got pissed,” Azelmo said.

Senior Sylvia Walker, who is left-handed, said her mother wrote with her left hand as well until she went to Catholic School.  She now writes with her right hand, which Walker said is “illegible.”
Holden said his teachers had to teach him how to write apart from his right-handed peers.

“The teacher essentially had to teach me separately and differently because the way you form letters with your left hand is pretty different from your right hand,” Holden said.

Difficulties with left-handedness often transcend the classroom, though.  While previous studies have shown that left-handed people die earlier than right-handed people, Dr. Jack M. Guralnik refuted this in 1991, when he found that there actually was not a significant difference between the death rates of left-handed and right-handed 3,774 people ages 65 or older.

Some left-handers find difficulty functioning in a world of objects created for people who predominantly use their right hands, like can openers, scissors and doorknobs.

“Opening any door with your left hand doesn’t really make sense because the handle is on the left and the door opens to the right,” Walker said.
Left- handed senior Noah Berenberg echoed these sentiments.

“Sometimes you just have to destroy a can just to get some soup because you’re struggling with the can opener,” Berenberg said.