Hey Pepsi: Women Can Eat Chips However We Damn Well Please [UPDATED]

Update, February 6: The New York Times reports that Lady Doritos have been cancelled. Apologies to either of the two women on earth who actually thought they'd be a good idea.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi spoke for nearly an hour on a Freakonomics Radio episode last week on topics ranging from her experience as a (woman, immigrant) CEO to the health concerns surrounding junk food. But a quick back-and-forth she had with host Stephen Dubner is garnering all the headlines. Following a question about whether men and women eat chips differently, Nooyi said: "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."

Lady snacks!, the internet sneered, likening snacks for women to Bic's endlessly mocked "Bic for Her" campaign.

The backlash is taking Nooyi's comments slightly out of context; she didn't say that women inherently like different types of snacks, but that chip packaging could be made more women-friendly. In context, though, the remarks are no less crappy:

When you eat out of a flex bag — 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. ... For women, low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have 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.

I hope I speak for thousands of women when I say that I listened to her words with my face caked in Cheeto-dust foundation. What's troubling about her assumptions about how women eat snacks isn't just I think they're off-base—Seriously, do women not funnel the bottom-of-the-bag chip bits into their mouth? Sisters, you are missing out!—but that they imply women should somehow apologize for eating snacks the way snacks are designed to be eaten.

This echoes the loaded words that make up so much snack marketing aimed at women: indulge, sinful, cheat, guilty pleasure. Having a snack doesn't have to be shameful; sometimes you're just hungry between meals. That is literally what snacking is.

In developing low-crunch, quiet, unobtrusive snack packaging, Nooyi suggests women apologize for their appetites. (This has sociological and psychological roots that writer Jess Zimmerman addresses at greater length than I will here.) Women are expected to "indulge" their hunger in furtive snacking bouts rather than out in the open like normal, healthy people. Perhaps there is a market for less crackly chip bags, or chip bags that don't get crushed in a purse or backpack, but surely that's not a gendered market.

And another thing!—I shout, half out of breath, with Doritos detritus crumbling out my maw—women make up more than half the American population. Whatever our snacking preferences, we are not an exception or a specialty market. In fact, we snack more frequently than men do. If women would prefer not to have Cool Ranch bits superglued to our fingers, perhaps that's not a lady thing; maybe all consumers would like a less adhesive snack coating so we can multitask Instagram scrolling with chip scarfing.

No doubt Nooyi has some basis for her comments about snack packaging and consumer product design. She's an astute businesswoman with millions of dollars of market research and consumer preference studies and focus group data at her fingers. But until those fingers are coated with Cheeto dust, I'm not sure I can trust her insights.