Okay, let's talk about those less crunchy "Lady Doritos"

If you’re thinking that this is the dumbest story you’re going to read all year then I would suggest you’ve been in a coma for the past nine months or so. We’re only just getting started.

To get down to business, the pressing matter of gender stereotypes and snack chips is burning up both social media and some of our larger newspapers this week. It all stems from a suggestion that PepsiCo is going to be producing some new brands of snacks in the Doritos line which aren’t quite as loud and crunchy and don’t have so much delicious, orange nacho dust on them. Why? Because that’s what the ladies like, gentlemen.

We’ll get to how they arrived at this conclusion in a moment, but as the New York Post explains, somebody clearly thought this was a no-brainer.

Food and drinks giant PepsiCo — which owns Doritos — has claimed research has found women do not like to crunch loudly or lick their fingers when eating in front of others.

Global chief exec Indra Nooyi told Freakonomics Radio: “Although women would love to crunch [chips] loudly, lick their fingers and pour crumbs from the bag into their mouth afterwards, they prefer not to do this in public.

“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.

My initial reaction to this story was to think that someone was pulling a prank to draw some Super Bowl ratings. Who doesn’t like crunching nacho cheese Doritos? Besides, people are people. If there are actually products that are geared up solely for women I wouldn’t expect to find them outside of the feminine hygiene aisle at the supermarket.

Have I been too conditioned by liberal preaching in the media? Perhaps. But a bit of sanity was added to the discussion by Molly Roberts at (of all places) the Washington Post. She notes that some of the usual feminist suspects are up in arms, but this really might not be such a big deal.

The argument underlying much of the anger around the mythical Lady Doritos rests on the idea that women eat Doritos just the same way as men, thank you very much, and suggesting otherwise is all stereotype and no substance. Maybe.

Or maybe, as any competent company does, PepsiCo conducted focus group to see how men and women ate their snacks. Maybe their research showed that men actually are more comfortable than many women crunching in public, just like they’re more comfortable sitting astride a subway seat like a colossus — because society has told them they can.

In that case, PepsiCo isn’t developing a product based only on sexism. PepsiCo is developing a product based on real-life behaviors that are themselves based on sexism.

You know, Molly, I’m having a bit of trouble wrapping my mind around the difference between sexism and, “real-life behaviors that are themselves based on sexism.” I’m trying to envision a scenario where somebody would describe a person who wasn’t engaging in racism, but rather, real-life behaviors that are based on racism.

Somebody call the cops! That guy is robbing the bank!

No, he’s not actually committing a crime. He’s making an unauthorized withdrawal that’s based on our modern perceptions of crime.

Rather than dwell on that bit of linguistic legerdemain, I’d rather figure out if there’s actually something to this. Are there characteristics which are “typical” of women but not men and vice versa? Obviously. None of them apply to all women or all men, obviously, but there are some gender-specific trends and always have been. And yet I don’t generally tend to think of them in relation to food choices. True, when you go to the bar there’s certainly a part of the menu reserved for what many of us still refer to as “girly drinks.” But they’re still drinks, including alcohol and some combination of mixers in various styles of glassware.

Do a significant majority of women really not like to lick their fingers in front of other people? Are they averse to tipping the bag up and pouring the crumbs in their mouth while somebody is watching? I’ve honestly never noticed. But given the massive amount of money it takes to launch a new product line, I have a feeling that Molly is correct on at least one point. PepsiCo has been around the block enough times by now that they probably focus-tested the heck out of this and more than likely went around filming people eating Doritos in public and measuring responses. (Don’t act all shocked. You know the major marketing firms are doing that.) And if they figured out that women are less likely to act that way, then they’ll come up with a product they’re more comfortable snacking on.

Molly is right again, at least in part. That’s not sexism. It’s responding to consumer data to maximize sales.