She seems like the perfect girl. She’s cute, funny, and sweet. But her deep, dark flaw? She’s totally clumsy! This girl trips over her own two feet constantly, but luckily no one ever gets hurt. After nearly knocking you over on her way to work, she helps you pick up your papers and apologizes with a small smile. See? This girl’s not perfect. After all, she’s a klutz.
Why this can be bad: The problem with this trope is not in regards to the clumsiness itself, really. For those of us who are legitimately clumsy, we know that this is a character trait that results in many broken electronics, twisted ankles, and crying at your own inadequacy. I dropped my phone as I was walking out of the store I bought it from, got my other phone run over by a go-kart, and have somehow avoided grievous bodily harm despite tumbling down a flight of concrete stairs both by foot and bike. I know what it’s like to be clumsy, and I know that it is not cute. At all. Ever.
The problem with this trope is that when clumsiness is applied to women, it’s often written as a cutesy character flaw that involves no actual consequences and makes the woman all the more endearing. It also tends to be the woman’s only character flaw, making her two-dimensional and closer to the manic pixie dream girl.
How you can fix it: Clumsiness is a legitimate trait some women have, but don’t forget that it comes with repercussions. Tripping occasionally or knocking down a series of bookshelves with nothing more than an “oops!” accessorizes the trait rather than making it an actual part of the character. If she trips a lot, mention her scabbed elbows and bruised knees. If she breaks something expensive in a store, make her have to pay for it. Give her phone a cracked screen, make her step carefully across wet pavement, show her doing things that actually embodies what it’s like to be clumsy rather than some romanticized ideal of it.
Also, do not treat this like a flaw that creates a well-rounded character. It doesn’t. Clumsiness is not on the same level as fearfulness or rage. Make sure your character has legitimate flaws and consequences for them, so as to ensure you’re not crating the MPDG or some other “perfect” character.
Bottom Line: Being clumsy has consequences and often results in less “So quirky and cute!” comments and more “How are you alive?” comments.