Until I was asked to write about them, I had no clue that ‘Lady Doritos’ was all the rage on social media. For the uninitiated—among whose ranks I counted myself until recently—PepsiCo’s Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi announced a female version of the popular Frito-Lay chips Doritos. Supposedly, these will be quieter, less messy, and capable of fitting into women’s purses.
In an interview with Stephen Dubner for an episode of Freakonomics Radio, Nooyi made the controversial comment on women’s differential consumption preferences. “Women would love to do the same [eat chips loudly, and publicly lick their fingers] but they don’t,” she said. Her remarks spurred the Twitterati into a frenzy, with reactions spanning the entire spectrum across bemusement, sarcasm, and plain outrage. For good reason too! If not outlandish—as Indians, we have more than enough precedent of women themselves propagating sexism and misogyny—Nooyi’s statements were definitely unexpected. As a woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company, one would expect that Nooyi has broken enough glass ceilings and stereotypes to know better than to feed into the image culture of what is and is not ladylike.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the catch!
Indra Nooyi, regardless of gender, is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Importantly, one which admits to directing its energy toward creating profits for its shareholders. No CEO, however orthodox, can risk its consumer base going up in arms, affecting its stocks and sales, on a whim. One might argue, given her past record of statements which may possibly be construed as anti-feminist, it is not an entirely unjustifiable proposition that Nooyi is socially conservative on the question of conforming to gender norms. However, one cannot, in the rush to pronounce judgements, ignore the capacity in which she was being interviewed, and in which the proclamation was made. Individual ideological subscriptions are unrelated to the fact that PepsiCo plans to release “snacks for women that [are] designed and packaged differently.”
Even less than risking a hit to its stocks can the top leadership of a company with a market capitalisation of over USD 160 billion afford to invest in—least of all announce the launch of—a product which it knows has no takers. An entity the size of PepsiCo has to be awash with data, making sense of which requires a dedicated, not to mention sophisticated, market research team (if not an entire department). Nooyi changed the course of the company from producing soda to nutrition-conscious juice in response to trends in consumer behaviour. The idea that a company with such history would create a product without proof of a strong market demand for it is simply laughable.
The corporate consumerism underlying the much-hyped ‘lady chips’ testifies to the existence of a large body of women who believe in conforming to a restrictive and regressive normative of femininity. Equally, it points to a massive body of individuals—both men and women—who proliferate the myth of the actuality of an ideal feminine archetype, and an entire generation which, in growing up in their shadow, runs the risk of internalising these parochial views.
Yes, the development of ‘Lady Doritos’ is worrisome—frustrating even. Yet another element of gender divisiveness has crept into the food market, giving teeth to the politics of sex-specific image norms, even as feminism battles to uproot the pre-existing ones. And yes, anger at Nooyi et al for being slaves to capitalism is justified. But perhaps asking if “anyone at Doritos [has] ever met a lady” is not the solution. Rest assured; they have. Hopefully, they were also appalled by what they learned. If we are to extirpate the problem, perhaps training our sights around us would serve us better than scapegoating a minion of the machinery that runs the modern world.
By Suvanshkriti Singh
Suvanshkriti is a nerd and a geek, and a dork enough to educate you on the
difference between the two. She alternates between despairing for the fate
of the world and debating solutions to all its problems; she’s part
pessimist, part romantic, and all goof.