A feminist revolution led by Quark’s Moogie forces Quark to impersonate a female in order to impress an important businessman.
Plot Summary: Rom prevents Quark from sexually harassing a Dabo girl by warning him that Ishka and Zek are missing. The two quickly learn that a women’s rights movement led by the former has caused chaos on Ferenginar and the Nagus has been deposed by Brunt. Zek has three days to convince the Ferengi Commerce Commission to reinstate him, but initial efforts by Quark, Rom, and Nog to persuade the members are unsuccessful. Only Nilva, the chairman of Slug-o-Cola, is willing to meet with them, largely because Nilva is intrigued by the idea of a female doing business. When Quark and Ishka argue about her feminist agenda, Quark’s Moogie suffers a heart attack and requires emergency surgery. Because Ishka will be too incapacitated to meet with Nilva, Zek and Rom persuade Quark to have gender reassignment surgery so that he can take Ishka’s place. Bashir gives Quark convincing breasts, but Leeta and Rom have trouble teaching “Lumba” to walk and talk like a lady. Nevertheless, Nilva is impressed with the female Ferengi’s understanding of commerce, particularly when Lumba suggests that the cola king market his soda directly to females as a beauty product. When Nilva wants celebratory sex, Lumba initially resists, but after Brunt arrives to unmask Lumba as a man, Lumba bares her breasts and demonstrates skill at manipulating lobes. Nilva declares that Lumba is woman enough for him and promises to support Zek’s reinstatement. Once the Nagus has been restored to power, Quark sobs to Odo that his female hormones are still making him sensitive. Though Quark declares that the experience of being female has made him more empathetic, he is soon back to demanding that the Dabo girls learn to satisfy him.
Analysis: I tried to be a good sport the first time I reviewed “Profit and Lace,” which is such a terrible episode in pretty much every way that going on a feminist tirade about it seemed like a waste of energy. A decade and a half later, my humor is wearing thin, and I suggest that all of you reading this spend an hour of your life doing something besides watching it. There’s not a line of Ferengi wit you haven’t heard before, not a single performance that’s not phoned in from a previous installment. The non-Ferengi regulars are almost entirely absent – when they do appear, it’s to remind us of the gravity of the Dominion War, which makes Ferengi commerce seem even more trivial and annoying than usual – and the Ferengi regulars appear determined to unravel any character development they might have achieved in the past, with Quark once again becoming the bar owner who demands sex from female employees and women’s rights leader Moogie collapsing after harsh words from her son. (I won’t even get started on Bashir, who should be sent to the front lines of the war to help the wounded if he has nothing better to do than perform cosmetic sex changes on people who only want the surgery to manipulate non-Federation finances.) I don’t care how many times the characters talk about Moogie leading a feminist revolution: there is nothing feminist about “Profit and Lace,” which is instead reactionary, sexist, and heterosexist, with plenty of queer-baiting jokes about Rom’s small-lobed feminine side and Nilva’s attraction to a female who isn’t a “real” woman.
“Real” women are a concept used in “Profit and Lace” in a way that was dated when the episode first aired. Leeta, who’s back to being nothing more than a dutiful wife and Dabo girl, believes that femininity consists of clothing, makeup, and high heels, even though Leeta didn’t grow up on Earth, knows plenty of female Bajoran officers and scientists, and is surrounded by women like Dax, Keiko O’Brien, and Kasidy Yates, all of whom fit certain conventionally feminine tropes yet who differ widely in their favored modes of dress, behavior, careers, and interpersonal skills. Sure, it’s funny to watch Quark try to learn to walk in high heels and maybe it even makes a point about ridiculous fashion expectations put on women in the 20th-21st centuries, but we’re told over and over again that the traditional Ferengi definition of femininity requires a woman to be completely naked, so why in the world would a Ferengi male ever expect a Ferengi female to wear high heels or any other particular fashion accoutrement? The writers and fashion designers both try to have it both ways, to characterize covering up as a daring and provocative act while at the same time dressing females to show off their breasts and hips as usual. There’s five seconds of lip service given as well to the idea of women as valued consumers and customers, equal participants on a world that values the marketplace above all, but it’s promptly undercut with a discussion of how to manipulate the female demographic into buying into external ideas of beauty, a scheme developed by men for their own profit.
Then there’s Dabo Girl #2, who reads Quark’s book about how to please a man and decides it sounds like fun. Whether she’s trying to get ahead with the boss for her own profit or she’s really turned on reading Fifty Strokes of Lobes, the idea that being handed a book turns her into a compliant sex worker is a cliché that serves male power in much the same way as the passive, pretty comfort women we’ve seen in this franchise. There’s no suggestion that gender might be a construct, no indication that rigid gender norms enforce a patriarchal status quo not only among the Ferengi. The only woman present whose intellect makes her less of a boy toy is knocked out of commission by a bout of maternal anxiety, thus allowing a man to prove Tootsie-style that he makes a better woman than a woman does, precisely because he’s not really a woman trying to do a man’s job like Ishka, but because he’s all man inside. Ishka may insist that woman are just as good at exploiting the marketplace as men are, yet we get no evidence that anyone can do it besides her – a woman whose age inspires all Ferengi more youthful than patriarch Zek to characterize her as an unlikely sexual conquest. What happened to Pel? Having Quark play a businesswoman instead of showing us an actual businesswoman reinforces Brunt’s intimations that women aren’t really ready to do business with men. And Quark’s “hormonal” behavior at the end, implying that femininity is innately about crying and being nurturing, sounds like something from a 1940s movie. I wish Odo would smack instead of comfort Quark. Ferengi episodes always feel like something of a slap in the face to traditional Trek values, but this one, with its overt homophobia and misogyny, has no place in DS9’s otherwise superb sixth season.