by Rita Charleston
It’s often been observed that while the great dancer Fred Astaire received most of the attention and fanfare for his amazing routines, his partner Ginger Rogers was doing everything he was doing — only she was doing it all backwards and in high heels!
Now, it’s not that I consider myself a clone of Ginger Rogers. It’s just that being one of the estimated 10% of the population who are left-handed, I have often felt I might forgo the high heels but nevertheless had to do everything backwards.
The world, you know, is made essentially for right-handed men. So being a left-handed woman for all these many years (we’ll just let the word “many” suffice; shall we?) I, like so many of my kindred spirits, have had to deal with a world not made to accommodate our particular (I didn’t say peculiar!) wants and needs.
Maybe that’s why a man named Dean Campbell has named August 13 “International Left-handers Day.” He has said he chose the 13th to “make fun of all the superstitions surrounding left-handers.”
And surround us they do. As a lefty myself, I have been discriminated against all my life Oh, not for serious things. I’ve never been denied medical care, a job, a home or a seat on the bus because I use the “wrong” hand. But I have experienced anti-lefty bias in other ways, like when I was in high school.
In grammar school, none of my school desks seemed to have any right or left preference. But once I got to high school, I was baffled. The Philadelphia High School for Girls is a wonderful school, but it had desks that were practically unusable for me, given that the writing surfaces were all on the right side. If I had to take a test and turned in my chair in order to write, I was told to “turn around.”
Obeying orders, I was thus unable to write. When told to begin taking the test like everyone else, I again turned in my chair in order to write, and I was again told to “turn around.” This went on several times during any given day until teachers finally got the point that some very few of us were left-handed and couldn’t write like “ordinary” students could.
Also, writing from left to right meant I was soon covered in ink or No. 2 pencil, as my left hand slid across everything I had just written. I even have a button my daughter gave me that proclaims: “Hire the left-handed. It’s fun to watch them write.”
Did you know that the word for “left” in French is “gauche,” and that in Latin it’s “sinister?” You’d think the world and its language would be kinder to “southpaws,” who have a whole host of problems to deal with every day — ranging from trying to use can openers and scissors and gear shifts, to name just a few of the many mechanical devices designed for right-handed people.
Some studies even suggest lefties have a shorter life span (66 vs. 75 years) in this country due to trying to deal with any number of mechanical devices. Also, statistics say, disease and immune system disorders are more common in lefties.
You may laugh at our struggles, and you can criticize our handwriting, but I don’t care. I belong to an elite club whose members include the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Neil Armstrong and many, many other legendary talents. It’s too late now to try to get on our “good” side. Please just keep all your left-handed compliments to yourself. For on August 13, we celebrate our uniqueness! Lefties rock!
Rita Charleston, a freelance writer for the past 30 years, writes feature articles on theater people for the Local.
* This article is reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, a publication of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.