It’s a Feminist Ferengi World After All
The Ferengi timeline starts with an overt violence-narrative that transitions to moral authority. The story of the Ferenginar homeworld is a violence-narrative that morphs, in fact, into feminist moral authority. Ferengi civilization, a society centered on profit and male dominance, collides with the Federation and humans that live in a post-currency society throughout Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. What is clearly established from the beginning is that money, or gold pressed latinum, functions as violence; money is clearly a token for violence.
The transition to a democratic Ferenginar with its own form of a Great Society is not without foreshadowing. In the Deep Space Nine episode, “Facets,” (1995) upon it becoming official that Nog has been accepted into Starfleet Academy, Quark remarks, “This is the end of Ferengi civilization.” It would be, though Quark had no way of knowing just how accurate his statement was.
Truly, aside from the immediacy of the plot of Deep Space Nine, one can see signposts in the arc towards the Ferengi Revolution running throughout the Star Trek universe from humanity’s earliest encounters with the Ferengi. Chronologically, we know that not even the Vulcans were acquainted with the Ferengi at the start of Captain Archer’s and the first Enterprise’s expeditions. In the season one episode, “Dear Doctor,” (2002) T’Pol clearly states that Vulcans had not yet encountered the Ferengi which had interacted with the Valakians, but were only interested in profiting from their predisposition. Capt. Archer attempts to help the Valakians with an illness Dr. Phlox would later assess as an evolutionary genetic mutation. This episode establishes the basis of what would become the Prime Directive. In this episode there is a clear contrast in moral authority between the Ferengi, who do not help the Valakians because there are no financial gains to be made, and humans, who must make the very difficult decision not only to not share warp technology, but not even a cure for the genetic mutation in the interest of the greater scheme of evolutionary blueprints and architecture.
All early indications are that the Ferengi are the worst model of capitalism imaginable, engaging in symbolic and literal manifestations of cannibalism and slavery. In the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint,” (1987) Captain Picard loosely comments that the Ferengi are known to eat other humanoid species. When several Ferengi drug the crew of Captain Archer’s Enterprise and attempt to loot its technology in “Acquisition” (2002), they gather the unconscious women into a literal pile of bodies with intentions of selling the women into slavery. Still, in these early stages inroads are made. After Archer, T’Pol and Trip retake control of the Enterprise, Archer establishes – arguably – some level of a relationship with Krem who is the most submissive of the group and situates him in a position of authority in the interests of a type of justice within that localized Ferengi hierarchy. Likewise, in The Next Generation episode, “The Battle,” (1987) a bond develops between First Officer Riker and the Ferengi First Officer, Kazago. After Riker makes an appeal to the Ferengi First Officer in the interests of common stewardship, Kazago eventually informs Riker that “Daimon Bok no longer commands this vessel. His First Officer has confined him for engaging in this unprofitable venture. Good luck First Officer Riker.” Riker succeeded in establishing what would become a functioning non-alliance with the Ferengi where the Federation and the Ferengi share the same space, but maintain separate interests.
Sharing the same space did not translate into anything that might be confused with trust. When Quark attempts to sell Harry worthless rocks in the first Star Trek Voyager episode, “Caretaker,” (1995) Harry slyly pronounces, “We were warned about the Ferengi at the Academy.” Quark becomes a symbol of transition; he is a measuring rod for how and to what degree Ferengi culture transforms into a society not only influenced by the Federation, but a society that allows itself – eventually – to be influenced by the marginalized among them. That Quark is an indicator of the shift in Ferengi rule is perhaps symbolically represented in Deep Space Nine season two episode, “The Circle,” (1993) in which Odo temporarily makes Quark a deputy.
There were early indications Quark possess the potential to not just be another “good Ferengi,” but also a Ferengi with measurable empathy. For example when Deep Space Nine was still Terok Nor and Cardassians were exploiting the Bajorans for slave labor, Quark sold food to the Bajorans which might have led to his own death if the wrong Cardassians, Cardassians Quark might not be able to bribe, found out about it. Though Quark did not give them food and still sold it, seemingly less saint-like, he was fond of saying it was sold “at price” meaning without a markup for profit. Quark learns, in Emmanuel Levinas’s sense, to become the Other. We should also look to the time Quark turned his back on the earning potential that would have helped him to realize his personal dream – owning his own moon. In the episode, “Business as Usual,” (1997) Quark’s cousin Gaila brings him into the weapons merchant business and Quark quickly earns enough to pay off his debts. However, when a new customer, the Regent of Palamar, demands the warfare capacity (with biological weapons) to kill 28 million people, Quark’s conscience surfaces and he orchestrates a way so that the sale is completely averted and leaves the weapons trade.
This is a very important moment. Here, violence has not only been rejected despite the profit to be made, but averted. This is the fifth season of Deep Space Nine. Quarks nephew, Nog, is representing the Ferengi in Starfleet. The Dominion War is causing planets and civilizations across the sectors to either demonstrate their best selves or risk their own long term security in the interest of questionable alliances and the hope of conquests. Ferenginar, meanwhile, is seeing something completely different. The wealth and trade of the Ferengi Alliance mostly seems unencumbered by the Dominion War. The greatest disruption on Ferenginar comes from within; from Quark’s mother: Ishka!
We first meet Ishka in “Family Business” (1995, Season 3, Episode 28). Quark’s father is deceased, making him head of his family. When Ishka is discovered by the Ferengi Commerce Authority to have been trading stocks, it is up to Quark to make amends. On Ferenginar women are forbidden from earning a profit. They are also forbidden from wearing clothes. The patriarchal institution of Ferengi culture that is centered on wealth, dominance over women, and encourages bendable moral conceits meets its challenge in the form of a widow: Ishka! Ishka is the ideal model for a Ferengi matriarch. She insists on wearing clothes and finds the fact that it is controversial to be absurd. She does not listen to Quark when he demands that she disrobe. Additionally, she is so talented at making money through trading stocks that not only has the Ferengi Commerce Authority not discovered the extent of her earnings, but it is suggested that even Quark does not learn of the true reflection of her wealth management ingenuity. Ishka is the perfect casual revolutionary; a revolutionary who cannot see that society should be another way than how she envisions it. It is in this context that Quark and Rom have a discussion on the end of the Ferengi way of life that, again, is deliberate foreshadowing.
Quarks relationships with others, identifying with others, and becoming the other, represents Ferengi capitalist structures filling the void of being. Against the backdrop of the Dominion War, Ferenginar finds itself. This ontological filling of the void is in contrast with the adjacent Bajoran fulfillment of living with the Emissary and the celestial temple that once again is tokened alive with the Prophets. For both the Ferengi and the Bajorans this essence is a real and immediate presence in their lives. The void of being, filled by identifying with the Other, is made more overt with Rom’s big heart for others, provoking Quark to soften his heart. It is also symbolized with Rom leaving the bar to work for the Bajorans or even with Starfleet intelligence when the Dominion briefly take DS9. Not to mention the additional and omnipresent symbolism of Rom’s son, and Quarks nephew, Nog, joining Starfleet and becoming Other.
An ontological earthquake occurs through Moogie’s (Ishka) prodding soft power. Soft power and romance, of course. What is a revolution without romance? In “Ferengi Love Songs” (1997) not only do we learn about Ishka’s and Grand Nagus Zek’s relationship, but that additionally Ishka has been playing the role as the Grand Nagus’s senior financial advisor. It is not the patriarch Zek who is holding the Ferengi economy together, it is Ishka. Naturally, this will have to lead to reforms for women on Ferenginar. That first comes in the form of the Ferengi Bill of Opportunities in the episode, “Profit and Lace” (1998). It is the first step in granting rights to Ferengi women, which leads to the very real threat of Zek becoming disposed. There can be no more obvious metaphor for Quark as a measuring rod for Ferengi civilization than the fact that he is surgically altered to become a female in an effort to save the advances made for women and restore Zek to power. Because the Grand Nagus moves toward a more revolutionary stance, Quark follows (though hesitantly) because he is loyal to Ferengi authority, which here represents the population following the course of historical influences.
It is Ishka that decides who will be the new Grand Nagus, Quark’s brother, Rom (“Dogs of War” 1999). However, Rom will not become Grand Nagus of the Fereginar that Quark would be more at home leading, wielding sole power over a cold capitalist oligarchy and exploiting that position for personal gain. No, Rom will be the consult over the new constitutional democracy and share power for the benefit of all Ferengi with social services and a good governance ethos. Rom’s simple ability to love and respect others makes him the ideal candidate to fill the role that was created, essentially, by Ishka. Ishka reformed structural power and in true feminist form not only women, but all benefited from her exercise in the ontological realization of shifting culture that is concluded against the backdrop of the end of the Dominion War. Money on Ferenginar is no longer the most important thing and the violence of the war is over. The most significant question that remains is what happened to Ferengi culture in the centuries that pass and will Star Trek: Discovery’s season three provide an answer?