It was the crunch heard around the world—the sound of PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi describing the reason why Doritos is developing a special, women-friendly chip. Because, you may have come a long way, baby, but could you just eat a bit more quietly?
In an interview with WNYC’s radio show Freakonomics, Nooyi probably thought she was simply sharing a spoiler for an audience interested in how giant corporations develop new products. Nooyi spoke about how market research shows that men, “lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour little broken pieces into their mouth, because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavour, and the broken chips in the bottom.” But not women. They’d love to, said Nooyi, 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 flavour into their mouth.” The new lady chip will be quieter and tidier. Oh, and they’ll come in smaller packages, because, as Nooyi pointed out, “women love to carry a snack in their purse.”
The reaction on social media was swift, and often hilarious. Actress Ariel Gitlin tweeted, “Instead of crunching noise the new Lady Doritos just say “sorry” quietly every time you bite down.” Multiple commenters wondered why no one mentioned wanting a quieter, less messy chip at one of the most recent Women’s Marches. Seth Meyer torched Doritos in a monologue, noting that, “there’s no more appropriate snack for the ‘MeToo’ era than a chip that tells women to be quiet.”
And I’d be laughing too if I weren’t so pissed. This gendered branding of cheesy corn chips? Let’s not mistake it for anything other than what it is: fast food trying to profit on the societally-imposed insecurities of girls and women. As the mother of a tween daughter, I am not having it. At a time when my 11-year-old is navigating her own changing body, I see her noticing what other girls eat and how. She’s started asking me about what calories are and if they’re bad. Does Doritos really want to be part of a message to my girl (and yours) that she should eat a little less and be a little daintier about what she does consume?
Ads have always tried to appeal to kids, ever since Tony the Tiger bounded out of the Frosted Flakes box, with a booming, “They’re great!” It’s not news that marketing messages reach kids as well as adults. But it’s become far more insidious. In a study commissioned by Heart & Stroke, scientists at The University of Ottawa discovered that in a single year, kids between two and 11 see more than 25 million food and drink ads online—90 percent of which are for unhealthy food.
Andi Curtis’s latest book, Eat This! How Fast-Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk (and how to fight back), illustrates for kids the complex relationship they have with junk food marketing. “Marketing messages are particularly effective on the developing minds of children who may not be developmentally able to distinguish between advertising and information—and if they are able to distinguish, they may not always be critical,” she says. The whole Lady Dorito thing is absurd because it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It tells young girls that eating loudly or licking her fingers is ugly and unbecoming. The message is that girls need be demure, quiet, retiring.”
And this is the thing, it’s not sugar and fat that Doritos is peddling here, it’s misogyny. You can bet I’ll be shelving the cool-ranch triangles of patriarchy.
As furious as it makes me that in this day and age, Doritos felt emboldened to make a product that basically tells women to pipe down and stop being so messy, the reaction was heartening. Curtis points out, “The immediate backlash on social media suggests that girls and women reject these stereotypes. Let’s hope this reminds marketers that pushing gender stereotypes with a side of fat, sugar and salt is just not on.”
Maybe I should be thanking Doritos for giving me such a rich conversation to have with my daughter about food. I’ll go on doing my job as her parent, balancing the toxic messages marketers of the world may send her with my own. I’ll remind her that she needs food to fuel her athlete’s body. I’ll encourage her to enjoy food because it’s delicious. I’ll ask her if she wants more. And I think I’ll read her this passage from Ruby Tandoh’s new book, Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want:
“All we can do it is to take the revolution one meal at a time. Be the first woman in the office to take a biscuit from the communal tin; be the person brave enough to take the last one, too. In the company of people you feel comfortable with and safe around, eat your heart out. Practice ordering greedily on dates. Be the only person at the table to get dessert. When it arrives, don’t share it. Try out speaking your mind when you’re alone …. No doubt some people, probably guys, will be thrown off balance by your forthrightness. Who cares. Eat their leftovers. If they carry on judging you, eat them, too.”