The truth behind Lady Doritos and gendered products

Credit: Anna Li/ Credit: Anna Li/

Doritos has chips for everyone. If you like to stick to the classics, you can kick back with some nacho cheese Doritos. If you’re craving something spicy, you can treat yourself to sweet chili heat Doritos. And if you’re a woman, you might have your own Doritos sometime soon!

The internet has recently latched onto the idea that Doritos will be coming out with a line tailored for women. According to The New York Times, the rumor traces back to an interview with Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Dorito’s parent company PepsiCo. During an interview on the “Freaknomics Radio” podcast, she said that women ate Doritos differently from men — apparently, 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.”

After prompting from the interviewer, she continued, “It’s not a male and female thing 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.” She completed the train of thought by posing the question, “And how can you put [the bag of Doritos] in a purse? Because women love to carry a snack in their purse.”

Days after the podcast aired, The Sun published an article under the headline “Doritos firm to launch crisps for WOMEN because they don’t like crunching loudly or licking their fingers, boss reveals.” In less than a week, a few casual comments became purported fact, and the media frenzy began.

People flocked to Twitter to express their amusement, outrage, and amused outrage. Several women expressed how much they loved licking that sweet, sweet Dorito dust off their fingers. Others lamented how they want equal pay, but society gives them “Lady Doritos” instead. Eventually, the official Doritos Twitter was forced to make a statement: “We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos, and they’re loved by millions.”

So no, you won’t be seeing “Lady Doritos” in stores anytime soon. But it’s not surprising that so many people believed they might, since there are already hundreds of unnecessarily gendered products lining shelves all over the world. Some highlights include Bic’s Pens For Her, Q-tips: Men’s Ultimate Multi-Tool, Woman in Charge Earbuds, Dude Wipes, Girly Girl Binoculars, and Man Grenade Bath Blasters.

Even if the packaging doesn’t explicitly say “For Men” or “For Women," a product can still be gendered. Companies convey gender with colors, shapes, patterns, images, and more. Products made for girls use the color pink, round edges, circles, light lines, and floral patterns. On the other hand, products for guys use dark, intense colors. They tend toward square edges and thick lines. Oftentimes, a shopper can determine the targeted gender with a single glance at a product.

As marketing became gendered, the products themselves became specific to a gender. Princess dolls and kitchen sets are almost always targeted at girls, while racecars and action figures belong to fboys. Although never stated outright, the message is clear. Girls are expected to be dainty, passive, and pretty. Boys are expected to be tough, aggressive, and strong. These gender roles are outdated and sexist. So why do companies still use them?

One could argue that capitalism drives most things in this economy, including the "seemingly innocent" gendering of daily products. Companies discovered that if they segment the market into boys and girls, they can sell more versions of the same product. For example, if a company’s building blocks were plain colors, Timmy and Tina could play with them together, which means their parents would only have to buy one set. On the other hand, if one set was pink and the other was camouflage, the parents are more likely to buy two sets, one for each of their children.

Furthermore, gendered marketing allows companies to tack on a "sexist surcharge." Women often have to pay more than men for the same basic products. For certain products, especially hygiene products, the difference can be as high as fifty percent. Customers are so hardwired to go to their gender’s section of the store that they never thought to check the prices on the other side.

Of course, gendered marketing can also backfire. If a company markets their product too aggressively towards one gender, then “gender contamination” can occur. According to Forbes, this phenomenon is when a gender avoids buying a certain product because of its association with the other gender. For example, men refused to drink Diet Coke because they associated the drink with women. It wasn’t until Coke came out with the “more masculine” Coke Zero that they were able to entice men toward the zero calorie drink.

With increasing scrutiny of “gender contamination” and the rise of gender equality, people have started to protest the gender segregation in stores, occasionally threatening to boycott if the store does not remove the gendered labels. In more ways than one, market segmentation is becoming less profitable.

Where the money goes, the companies follow. In the near future, we will likely see companies abandon the practice of gendering products. Already, stores such as Target are receiving positive media attention for removing boy and girl labels on toys. But it’s a slow process. There’s a complex web of factors holding gendered marketing in place — tradition, capitalism, and of course, sexism. These forces all have a strong hold on the business world, and CEOs are unlikely to turn to social justice issues and disrupt the "way things have always been." Most of the time, companies are unwilling to change unless their customers force them to.

While a snarky tweet won’t end gendered marketing, it could make it less accepted, and that’s a step in the right direction.