Damsel in Distress or Cute Clumsy Girl: Who has Dyspraxia?

Taylor Swift is in distress while singing “Mean.”

All of us are familiar with ‘damsel in distress,’ right? How about ‘cute clumsy girl?’ Yes. They’re almost always the leading ladies of TV shows, movies, comics, amd novels. Some definitions:

Damsel in distress – or persecuted heroine, is usually a beautiful young woman placed in a dire predicament by a villain or monster and who requires a hero to achieve her rescue. After rescuing her the hero can usually convince the woman to be their wife.[1]

Cute clumsy girl – Take an attractive girl or woman and make her more approachable by adding in some klutziness.[2]

Damsels in distress and cute clumsy girls are almost always the ideal leading ladies in literature. Since the beginning of history, they have been part of epics, legends, fairy tales, and the like. They serve as heroes’ leading ladies who need rescuing from any force of evil. Damsels usually have these characteristics: chaste, graceful, naive, helpless, and somewhat dumb. And they are often kidnapped, enslave, or put into exile until knight in shining armor saves her. Sounds romantic, right? Maybe yes, if she’s going to have a happily ever after ending.

Fast forward to 21st century, and real-life women can now work, study, buy own property, even have children and/or sex without becoming dependent on Prince Charming. Translation: superwoman. This means us women must have strength to juggle work, life, property until we become exhausted, at least in the developed world, particularly the West. If you do otherwise, you’re doomed for a life of joblessness, poverty, and exploitative relationships, according to feminists. Yes it’s true, especially if you don’t have life skills, you cannot succeed. You might have just wait for Mr. Right to come along to save your day, only he turned out to be your worst nightmare. Scary…

But hell wait. Why be a superwoman when in fact the media has not yet totally moved on from having clumsy heroines? Though the same media also promoted superwomen in most modern-day series, they still prefer damsels in distress and cute clumsy girls. So does most men. They are turned off to powerful women and prefer approachable girls who needs help. Examples are listed below:

Anna’s awkwardness with her first meeting with Kristoff.

Usagi (Sailormoon), the anti-heroine, a clumsy teenager in human form.

The accident-prone Bella is saved by Edward.

Cheon Song Yi (Steffi), the graceless Hallyu (Korean pop) celebrity from My Love From The Star.

And the list goes on. Almost all of fairy tale heroines are damsels in distress and some lead female characters of young adult novels and most manga (Japanese comics), anime, Jdorama (Japanese drama), and Hallyu leading ladies are cute clumsy girls.

Eh? Why does this stereotype continue? Should we blame patriarchy? What about feminism’s criticism of the damsels’ clumsiness? They associate the ideal weak ladies with the patriarchal idea that femmes should be submissive and helpless that is prone to exploitation by males. Partly true. Although feminksts might be right about this, they may overlook that there are some girls born to be clumsy that is mistaken for acting like a damsel.

I have my own answer. Please read: Damsels in distress and cute clumsy girls have dyspraxia.


I’m not telling that all leading ladies have dyspraxia. But I do observe that some of them have some sort of dyspraxia. Let’s take an example from above. Twilght’s Bella is a classic example. She is clumsy, acts awkwardly (read: no poise), is prone to accidents, and is not so into fashion (she prefers jeans and shirts to dresses and doesn’t like makeup either). Another classic example is Frozen’s Anna. She does not generally fit to the princess archetype as she is also prone to falling like when she first met Hans when she fell into a boat. And so goes with other heroines.

At least media is somewhat supportive that clumsy individuals can be main characters, right? In fact, Many people feel that damsels and clumsy girls are more approachable that strong women. Maybe it’s somewhat intimidating to have a strong female lead, but generally speaking, having a determined girl to survive beyond her capabilities gives the audience an impression of something like “She needs our help” mantra.

On the other hand, media also stereotypes clumsy girls as easy subjects of exploitation from other people. Also, parents and feminists do also object to the damsel in distress/cute clumsy girl idea as according to them, this notion teaches girls to be weak and just wait for Mr. Right to rescue them instead of leading herself to success/happiness. I think that’s true also. Women also need to be assertive and self-reliant too instead for just waiting in vain.

But what if a girl has done everything, and yet, is either still clumsy or is trapped under difficult circumstances? Help from the outside is needed for the damsel in distress. Let’s take Cinderella as an example. She is clearly a victim of child abuse/mistreatment by her stepmother by making the former a servant, and that really needs rescuing (hence, it came true by the fairy godmother and the prince).


(C) Disney.

Cinderella was made a servant. She’s a damsel in distress but not a cute clumsy girl.

What about the forever clumsy? She is most likely criticized as foolish and weak. But before you judge her, see if she has symptoms of dyspraxia. As the damsel in distress may or may not have dyspraxia, the cute clumsy girl clearly has dyspraxia.

How that can be?

Unlike a damsel in distress who can have developed praxis (process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realised) but suffered unfortunate events, the cute clumsy girl always cannot learn a skill right away and loses balance that she is mistaken as a dumb girl, which is not always that case. Instead of making fun of her or mocking her, try to empathize with her and see her efforts instead of her failures. Imagine if you are in her place, imagine that you’re trying too hard and yet you can’t still do a thing.


(C) Disney.

Rapunzel’s clumsiness might actually be dyspraxia.

You may think that it’s just laziness. But no. Still can’t get it?

Imagine you are paralyzed. Try to move. But you can’t move a bit. That’s exactly what dyspraxics experience. They are eager to do things right even if there will be poor results. (For more details about dyspraxia, see my article here).

Anyway, feminists are right that a woman should have her own life and never wait for someone to rescue her. However, keep in mind that not all damsels and clumsy girls should be criticized.

Next time you read a book/comic or watch a TV program/movie and you encounter a damsel in distress or cute clumsy girl, don’t judge or make fun of her right away. Maybe you should think whether this character has dyspraxia or not, and maybe you’ll learn how is the everyday life of a dyspraxic.

So the question is, who has dyspraxia? The damsel in distress or the cute clumsy girl?

Answer: the cute clumsy girl, though the damsel in distress may or may not have dyspraxia.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damsel_in_distress
2. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CuteClumsyGirl
3. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process)

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