On Monday, women on Twitter went into tailspin over the idea that PepsiCo might be creating Lady Doritos. There had been news indicating the chips wouldn’t crunch as loud or be so messy to eat. A lot of women were pissed, and many of the tweets shared the same sentiment: We asked for equal pay and all we got is stale chips.
At the same time, a tweet from Lean In popped up in my feed arguing importance of hiring and promoting women. I’m all for this line of thinking, and not just because there’s plenty of data to suggest that having more women in positions of power leads to better economic returns. But I also had to chuckle: the CEO of PepsiCo is a woman, and even she’s not immune from creating so-called sexist products.
In many ways, Indra Nooyi is a woman of the moment. She’s an immigrant, a woman of color, and one of just 27 female CEOs to run a Fortune 500 company. She should be the ultimate feminist role model. In the nearly hour-long Freakonomics interview, she shared interesting tidbits about fighting activist investors and working 20 hours a day, seven days a week. She also dropped the 90-second sound bite about the difference between how men and women consume chips that sent the internet into a spiral and spawned a 1,000 think pieces.
Here’s a transcript of that section of the interview.
NOOYI: When you eat out of...one of our single-serve bags — especially as you watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth, because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavor, and the broken chips in the bottom. Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers generously and they don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth.
DUBNER: So is there a male and female version of chips that you’re playing with, or no?
NOOYI: It’s not a male and female as much as “are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?” And yes, we are looking at it, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon. For women, low-crunch, the full-taste profile, not hav[ing] so much of the flavor stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse? Because women love to carry a snack in their purse.
In a statement the company released on Tuesday, PR reps downplayed the Lady Dorito rumors while saying they are committed to finding new ways to “engage and delight their consumers.” Personally, I wouldn’t mind a less messy chip, and I’m pretty sure my husband (a man) would like one, too. Cheesy Dorito fingers are kind of gross no matter your gender. But even if it is a bad idea — and I take the point — is it relevant that the change is happening at a company that is led by a woman?
The juxtaposition of those two Twitter threads — Lady Doritos hate versus Lean In optimism — served as a good reminder about how complicated it is to be a woman in charge. And when you consider the fact that in this case, a woman is in charge, it’s a reminder of how much pressure our gender is under to fix everything that’s broken in our society, from the serious to the silly.
Sure, some of you might argue Doritos aren’t broken, but there’s something to be said about products created by women with women’s needs in mind. I would love to find a desk chair that fits my smaller frame, or a smartphone I can comfortably hold in one hand. It’s really tricky to tread into this area of products designed for women without coming across as sexist or out of touch. The Lady Doritos drama made me think of the controversy IBM (another female-led company) faced a few years ago when it sponsored an initiative aimed at female engineers encouraging them to hack a hair dryer. Again, the Twitter outrage was swift: Women engineers were capable of creating something far more important than a hair dryer. Yet, like those Lady Doritos, I can’t help but want a better hair dryer. After all, it’s a product that hasn’t really seen an update since its inception at the turn of the last century, save the new Dyson Supersonic model that costs a staggering $400.
There are, of course, more urgent examples of why products designed for and by women are so important. It was women who finally disrupted the feminine care market with period panties, the DivaCup, and organic mail-order tampons. In her recent article on the female economy, Danielle Kayembe shared the story of how women and children were killed by early airbags because the male engineers who designed them didn’t think to test for female passengers. It’s essential that women and minorities are in the room making decisions so we get products that actually meet our needs, not just men’s wants.
I’d argue that Lady Doritos are only really sexist if they fall victim to bad marketing — I imagine 100-calorie pink packages that are sold at twice the price as a regular bag of chips. The pink tax is obnoxious and real — a 2015 study from the New York City Division of Consumer Affairs found that across the board women spend more on products than men. I’ll never understand the appeal of paying more for one of those dumb purple razors that doesn’t even do a good job shaving my legs. It’s more sinister than that, though: If women earn less, but pay more for products, it hurts our bottom line and prevents us from ever gaining wealth and economic security.
Lady Doritos are not likely to destroy our bottom line — or Nooyi’s career. But the whole controversy raises the question: Is she selling us something we don’t even know we want (despite the ire of feminist Twitter), or is she falling prey to a market that profits in stereotypes? We shall see when the product is released. Still, I’m betting Nooyi knows something the rest of don’t. She’s hardly a token hire.