strong dumb take

Grand Dividing Theory of Female Doritos

Photo: Frito-Lay, Getty Images

There are two types of women in this world. One prefers Nacho Cheese Doritos, the other Cool Ranch.

I am a Nacho Cheese woman. I am comforted by the bright red bag, the cloudy-orange chips inside, the blanket of stink accompanying each bite. Nacho Cheese Doritos are reliable. They have no spark and no surprises.

What makes a Nacho Cheese woman? She has brothers, no sisters. She has never learned how to put on makeup. She doesn’t mind a spill on her clothes, because why would you ever wear clothes you can’t spill on? Her person is chaotic; her house is pristine. She is almost violently judgmental, but keeps most of those thoughts carefully contained. She likes beer. She enjoys the company of other women, especially those she’d describe as “laid-back.” She lives her life always a little concerned she might be gross in ways she’s incapable of detecting.

And who is the Cool Ranch woman? She goes to her fridge and pulls out a bottle of white wine. She participates in “no-makeup makeup.” Her sisters are some of her very best friends. Inside her purse, which she has, is a Tide Pen. If you’re lucky enough to hold her hand, your own palm will be left with the crisp, clean scent of unnamed fruit. She is upfront about her desires and preferences and doesn’t understand why you won’t look the bartender in the eye and state firmly that you asked for a lime, not a lemon.

This woman likes the bright, confetti flavor of Cool Ranch Doritos. Where Nacho Cheese is a ripe, muddy taste, Cool Ranch has a controlled spark, a prim but present jolt. Nacho Cheese invites you to lie back on the couch, to settle in, content with your orange dust-cloud. Cool Ranch would really rather you sat up, daintily wiping your fingers on a neutral-colored linen napkin every few multi-colored bites. Nacho Cheese is a haze, a blur, an amoeba. Cool Ranch is sharper, a million tiny pinpricks of flavor.

The patient zero subjects for my theory are myself — a vast constellation of stains, sister to two brothers, the immediate descendent of a woman with two brothers of her own — and my dear friend Elyse, who has two sisters and is a successful hair stylist. She looks the way you’d guess a hairstylist would, which is to say: She looks good. Really good. She’s confident and put-together, with those tousled curls and a quick but firm makeup routine that I only know about from the time we went to Arizona together, two women divided by Doritos, united by the need to escape their very young sons. Not long ago I texted to confirm that her Doritos preference still stands. The reply came almost instantly and without follow-up questions: “Cool ranch baby.”

Despite an enduring love for Elyse, I will admit that over the years, I have been mildly to majorly suspicious of the generic Cool Ranch woman. In my experience, she notices the mud on your boots. She is willing to order wine when the day clearly calls for a bottle of Bud. She has a screaming fight with her sister over the phone, which she still uses to speak in non-emergency situations. She shows up to a thing wearing the exact right thing. In other words, to a Nacho Cheese woman, she is an alien, intriguing but threatening, beautiful, but distantly so.

Of course, I am willing to see that one woman’s familiar is another’s alien. “I haven’t spoken to my brother in six months,” the Nacho Cheese woman says. “We get along great!” Those who interact with her professionally might note her slovenly appearance and doubt her abilities. Others may interpret her mildness as weakness or failure to care. If I stretch my imagination, I can accept that some women truly do find beer “filling,” and actually enjoy the taste of sour envelopes, more commonly known as the effect of drinking white wine.

These are differences in experience and preferences, and these are all fine. But the real reason I am suspicious of the Cool Ranch woman is because, if I’m truly honest with myself, she has what I can’t have or can’t figure out how to have. She has those sisters — or relates to certain kinds of women in general — who lead to an outward confidence or, at the very least, a makeup tutorial at a formative age.

Some women have brothers and a sister, or a sister and brothers, or some of each. I don’t know where they fit in. (For the only children who have read this far and are wondering: You are Cool Ranch. I’m pretty sure.)

There are also women who defy my categories, though usually not without good reason. “Maybe that was your response to the masculine energy of having two brothers,” I posited to one fan of Cool Ranch. There is also the reality that some women, even those you harbor intense affection for and respect as professionals, respond to a question about chips like this: “I don’t care about Doritos.” Others take a more measured approach: “Buy Nacho, but wouldn’t decline Cool Ranch.” One in particular has an answer that does nothing but stun: “I just ate a Dorito for the first time last year!”

For the first time in 20-plus years of friendship, I asked Elyse why she prefers Cool Ranch over Nacho Cheese. In the past her reasons were always ones I projected onto her: Nacho Cheese grosses her out, it’s too messy for her, Cool Ranch is the more artificial, more controlled choice. “Hmm,” she said. “I never really thought of why. Maybe it’s that they don’t stain my fingers.”

Just as I’d suspected. But then she went on: “They don’t taste as fake to me as the orange ones.”

With those words, a beloved friend crumbled my fragile house of chips. It took just one line of text to dismantle what I’d always held dear about myself, especially in relation to the women I defined myself against. It would seem that the authenticity and muddy realness of Nacho Doritos do not translate for everyone; that Cool Ranch can somehow taste more natural than Nacho Cheese; that one woman’s fun is another woman’s fakery. What if white wine actually tastes good? What if it’s possible for a makeup routine to be simple? Is having a sister … fun?

Earlier this week I went to my favorite corner store and bought two bags of chips. I got on the train, lucked into a solo seat and began alternating between Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese. I considered the ways in which my theory rests on gender stereotypes, a lifetime of carefully cultivated dislikes, unkind reactions to what the world has not given me. In between bites of Nacho Cheese, I gave Cool Ranch her chance, and you know what? That delicate bitch still tasted worse.

Grand Dividing Theory of Female Doritos