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Products over Ploys

Photo: dean bertoncelj /

Last week, Doritos made headlines with a new product: “Lady Doritos,” supposedly a version of the chip designed to have less crunch and less flavored powder—all packaged in a smaller bag so that women can carry them inside their purses (naturally).

“[Women] don’t like to crunch too loudly in public,” PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said in an episode of the Freakonomics podcast. “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.” Nooyi went on to mention that PepsiCo, which owns Frito-Lay, is looking to make snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently, and that they’re “getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon.”

Twitter ran with the story. Soon, #LadyDoritos was trending.

A spokesperson later clarified that “Lady Doritos” weren’t a real product, and that Nooyi’s comments had been misconstrued.

But while Lady Doritos aren’t coming to a shelf near you, plenty of products “designed for women” are already there. From pink razors and tool chests to Bic’s “Bic for Her” pens, companies have long taken perfectly good products, essentialized them, and then claimed that they were designed for women. But these products don’t seem to have been truly designed with women in mind—nor do they appear to address the basic fact that women want products, not gimmicks.

I’ve always found that these sorts of products, on a fundamental level, devalue women’s intelligence—and their ability to discern what is, or what isn’t, good for and useful to them. Why do women need a special pen? Are their frail fingers incapable of wielding a normal pen? Why would the world ever need Lady Doritos? More importantly, why do companies assume that the only products women want are pink pens or a bag of chips that can fit inside a purse?

The filtering of non-gendered products to make them more palatable to women is particularly galling once you realize the market presence women have as consumers. According to a report by the global professional services firm EY, the global incomes of women will increase from $13 trillion to $18 trillion within the next five years. That same report also noted that women will control close to 75 percent of discretionary spending, worldwide, by 2028.

So if women are driving nearly three-fourths of consumer purchasing, why not take them seriously? Why not develop products that will actually better their lives?

At least part of the issue is the lack of women in senior leadership positions in companies around the world. Grant Thornton, a global tax, auditing, and advisory firm, conducts an annual survey evaluating women in business. In 2017, the firm found that only 25 percent of senior executive positions are held by women, and that 34 percent of companies surveyed had no women in senior leadership roles. This glaring lack of representation is at least somewhat to blame for overly simplified and gendered products. Who can accurately convey or effectively meet the needs of female consumers if the people making the decisions are predominantly—or, as is often the case, entirely—male? This isn’t to say that only women can or should call the shots about matters disproportionately targeting them—this isn’t, in other words, to entrench the notion of “women’s issues”—but they should, absolutely, be able to contribute meaningfully to the conversation.

Fortunately, there are companies working to address some of the actual needs of female consumers. Medical technology company Hologic, for instance, recently announced the SmartCurve breast stabilization system, which features a curved compression surface that mirrors the shape of a woman’s breast in order to reduce the discomfort women experience during a mammogram. The development was created in light of a Kadence Inc. survey of 10,000 women that found that discomfort is the leading reason why women avoid a mammogram.

And, after the beauty industry insisted for decades that there wasn’t a market for darker shades of make-up, Rihanna released her Fenty Beauty line last fall. It has 40 diverse shades of make-up (“so that women everywhere would be included”) and has consistently sold out of its darkest shades. On top of that, last year, bulk products brand Boxed launched #RETHINKPINK, a movement against the “pink tax.” The term refers to the increased price of everyday women’s products, as well as to the sales tax applied to feminine hygiene products in states that deem these products “luxury items.” Boxed announced that it would lower the prices of women’s products and also absorb the “pink tax” often levied on feminine hygiene products.

Women, for a number of practical reasons, consume differently than men. Nooyi was, in a sense, right about that. But different doesn’t mean less intelligent or less serious. Women are important consumers with complex needs—needs that can’t be solved with quieter chips or a pink pen (and needs that probably won’t be solved if women are continually left out of key leadership roles). It’s essential to support companies like Fenty and Boxed, who are recognizing the genuine needs of female consumers—and then creating products, not ploys, to address them.


Catherine Wilson is an events associate at New America, where she supports the production of more than 200 events each year. She interned in the editorial and communications departments at New America before joining as an events associate.