So I previously called out “Profit and Lace” as an example of a really sexist Ferengi-centred DS9 episode. “Rules of Acquisition” is better, but still falls into a few sexist traps, despite it seeming to try to address the issue of women’s inequality in Ferengi culture.
Michelle’s Trek Today review calls the episode basically “Yentl-in-space”, and that feels pretty accurate to me. In brief, the episode revolves around a Ferengi woman, Pel, who disguises herself as a man because she wants to succeed in business. While working for Quark, she falls in love with him. Zek sends them on a mission to establish trade in the Gamma Quadrant and comedy ensues.
I don’t think this one needs a play-by-play so instead I just wanted to highlight a few key scenes and thoughts about how the episode presents gender roles:
- The Opening Tongo Game
The episode opens with Dax playing Tongo with a group of Ferengi, including Quark, Rom and Pel. The main purpose of the scene seems to be to show how sexist Ferengi culture is. On the one hand, the fact that it’s played for humour makes it hard to view the oppression seriously. On the other hand, you can be pretty sure someone’s going to change their views on this later in the episode, so it serves a purpose.
Dax: This female happens to be a better player than Curzon ever was.
Quark: And a prettier one too.
Rom: Maybe so, but I still prefer a Ferengi female. One who never wears clothes, never talks back, and never plays tongo.
Dax: Is that how you really prefer your women? Naked and submissive?
Quark: Do you find such a lifestyle appealing?
Dax: Don’t you wish.
Quark: I do. I really do.
2. Dax Defends Ferengi Creeping
A bit later in the episode Kira complains to Dax about how gross the Ferengi are (after Zek has pinched her bottom, barraged her with innuendo, and sent her a fancy earring) and this is the scene where I kind of die a little inside:
Kira: I don’t understand your attitude about the Ferengi.
Dax: That’s because you don’t socialise with them the way I do. Looking back over seven lifetimes, I can’t think of a single race I’ve enjoyed more.
Kira: Did anyone ever tell you that you have very strange taste?
Dax: I admit they place too much emphasis on profit, and their behaviour toward women is somewhat primitive.
Kira: They’re greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls and I wouldn’t turn my back on one of them for a second.
Dax: Neither would I. But once you accept that, you’ll find they can be a lot of fun.
I feel like having Dax take that position that it’s all just fun and games plays into the people in real life today who argue to women who don’t like being catcalled they should just “take a joke” and be flattered for the attention. To me, it’s another example of something that shouldn’t really even be a debate today, much less in the 24th century.
She also tells a story to Pel about Quark doing one of the creepiest things I’ve ever heard, which she still thinks is “sweet”.
Pel: Quark really likes you. He talks about you all the time.
Dax: You know he once convinced me to go up to a holosuite with him. Turns out he recreated the bedroom I slept in as a child. He overheard me describing it to Kira. Of course, most of the details were wrong, but it was a very sweet gesture, up until he tried to kiss me.
Pel: That sounds like Quark.
Dax: I don’t care what anybody says, I love him.
I would agree it wouldn’t be in character to have Dax get offended by Quark, but I’d have liked her to shut the Ferengi down with an awesome line instead of just finding the sexist comments cute and sucking it up.
3. Dax Guesses Pel’s in Love with Quark
The moment goes by really quickly but I think it’s one of the coolest parts of the episode, where Dax guesses Pel’s in love with Quark before she finds out Pel’s a woman. Dax is totally casual and non-judgmental and is more surprised Pel is a woman in disguise. It makes an important statement that they don’t play up the confusion for humour. That said, I do think we’re supposed to find the part where the Gamma Quadrant aliens, the Dosai, walk in on Pel kissing Quark funny. So that maybe takes away slightly.
4. Pel: The Ferengi Woman Who Wanted More
I like Pel in a lot of ways. She knows how smart she is – clearly smarter than Rom, Zek and even Quark.
“You wanted more,” observes Dax when she finds out Pel’s secret.
“Why not? I’m as smart as any man,” Pel replies.
She’s wily and manipulative like any good Ferengi. And by the end I think she does challenge the Ferengi characters’ beliefs about what women can do, maybe helping lay the groundwork for Ishka’s later feminist revolution.
Unfortunately, Pel’s love for Quark means she blows her cover and has to leave everything she knows. On the plus side, it’s cool how she refuses to stay with Quark, since that means living as a traditional, submissive Ferengi woman.
She even tells Zek who she really is, even though she knows Quark might lose profit:
Quark: I hope you’re satisfied.
Pel: I’m sorry, but it’s time he learned that when it comes to accumulating profit, women are as capable as men.
Quark: Well, do me a favour and don’t tell anybody else.
Overall I’d say it’s one of the better Ferengi episodes, though it suffers from the same pitfalls that they all do, trying to show Ferengi oppression of women is wrong while still making it the subject of comedy.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass when Kira and Dax talk about the Ferengi (as outlined above)