Women have been taught to eat slowly, softly, in smaller bites — a construct of femininity designed to aid the creation of a fragile, waifish woman.
It’s always a rather traumatic moment for me when I’m starving and the only thing available around me is a packet of Doritos. I look at them in horror, revulsion, and finally resignation, as I wince through the crunch of each chip and give in to the compulsion to lick my fingers to get every bit of the cheese powder off them.
I mean, not really, but that’s what PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi would have you believe.
Nooyi, who’s known for her startlingly incisive, data-driven understanding of consumer behaviour and its idiosyncrasies, was on the Freakonomics podcast with host Stephen Dubner where she laid out plans for PepsiCo’s foray into what can be best described as…gendered chips? Lady snacks?
“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,” Nooyi said. “Women, I think, 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 flavour into their mouths.”
In an age of femvertising and pandering to limited, narrow concepts of what a ‘modern woman’ should look like, this seems like a move Nooyi should have shot down the moment it was suggested. With an increasing intolerance for the ‘pink tax’, or what is the cost of simply being a woman, why would PepsiCo risk raking disfavour with educated, newly-emancipated women still learning how to flex the muscles they built as they broke through stifling cages?
This is like when a range of Bic pens called ‘Bic for Her’ went viral in 2012 because of, you know, being absolutely ludicrous. Minutely thinner than their ‘male’ counterparts, and available in pretty pastels like pink and lavender (because that’s obviously what every woman wants), they were, on a more sobering note, more expensive than the normal Bics. This is a trend seen time and again with basics everyone uses — shaving cream, razors, soaps. Let’s also not forget that the one product Indian women need for a huge chunk of their lives—sanitary napkins, which are the most popular form of menstrual hygiene in the country—are still taxed at obnoxious rates.
Women have been taught that they must take less space, they must eat less, they must fade, slowly and discretely, to let everything else around them shine brighter by just a smidge. Women have been taught to eat slowly, softly, in smaller bites — a construct of femininity designed specifically to aid the creation of a fragile, waifish woman who looks weaker and easier to protect. I don’t think I can explain this concept better than Lily Myers’ Shrinking Women, a spoken word piece that went viral for its obvious art, and for the fact that it echoed what so many women had been trying to articulate.
A woman’s body is a battleground of many ideologies, including capitalism — and that’s a battle it has won till now. Women have had their reflections cut, quartered, and diced into an unrecognisable mush of contradicting demands and painful dissonance.
This has been changing, though. Slowly, yes, but surely. Impactful, widely-read portals like Teen Vogue, BuzzFeed, and Vice have all realised there’s a huge number of young women yearning for a vocabulary for the ephemeral feelings of discontent and anger that has been building up over the years — and they’re happy to fill these gaps. This has translated to an entire market looking for recognition, for representation, for cognisance.
To be anything less than #woke to the volatile demands of consumers still discovering their own tastes after generations of being told what they like or don’t, is, frankly, a terrible move. Especially when women are finally discovering how much they’ve been cheated out of.
Being a woman is expensive, uncomfortable business. Our clothes are created to need multiple layers and are engineered to fall apart before we can get comfortable in them. Our tampons, because of their lax industry standards, are alleged to literally kill us. Public spaces are created to be specifically hostile to us, relegating us into the private sphere again and again, for no lack of our trying. Whenever we think of exactly how terrible things can get for even the most privileged of us, the yearning for a beer may dawn — and of course, there’s an overpriced, pearly-grey bottled brand targeted just at us.
You know what, Ms Nooyi? I think I deserve each chip with as much crunch and messy flavour as possible. The rest of me is forced to be quiet often enough.
Harnidh Kaur is a poet and feminist.