The Issue of Mr. Mom in Mpreg


I’ve argued before that omegaverse tends to play fast and loose with our notions of gender. Mpreg, generally, does the same thing. One of the curiousities of the genre is that characters who can get pregnant maintain a cisgender identity.

A cardinal exhibiting a condition known as chimerism, in which it displays characteristics of both female and male sex. This bird is also part albino. It sits on a branch in front of a tangle of other snow-covered branches.
Because sex and gender is always so very clear cut.

That can cause some consternation when it comes to terminology—particularly when Baby arrives. Should we call this man dad, papa, or something similar? Or is the term mom more fitting?

Adopting the Maternal Role in Mpreg

Most mpreg features a man—often a cisgender one—adopting the feminine or maternal role in the strictest sense. That means the man gets pregnant and delivers a baby. Often, we then see that character engaged in the kind of caregiving we expect from “women” in our society.

The assumptions made here run deep. The first is that since someone gave birth, they are naturally going to assume the lion’s share of childcare. There’s a deep social belief in the idea of “maternal” or “mothering” instinct. And, to some degree, there is an instinctive drive to nurture one’s offspring. Not everyone has it, and we don’t all experience it to the same degree. But the biological imperative to render care to the infant does exist. If it didn’t, most human infants would not make it past a few weeks of life. (I can say that confidently, having just done two-thirds of the “fourth trimester” myself.)

Research shows us a lot about mother-baby bonding. Mothers and babies, for example, both show lower cortisol levels when Mom sings lullabies to Baby. They also experience parallel stress levels when they’re separated for sleep at night.

Less research has been done on new fathers and their bonds to their babies. The existing research, though, shows that new dads experience strong drives to bond with their babies. Dads also experience stress when their babies cry, and they exhibit similar drives to deliver care and soothe Baby. In short, these so-called maternal instincts exist in parents of any gender.

So, it’s not inconceivable that cisgender men would experience “maternal instincts” and caregiving drives. They already do, even though they can’t get pregnant and give birth.

Why Is Maternal Instinct Feminine?

Despite the (limited) evidence, society sees maternal instinct and mothering behaviors as feminine. That’s where we get jokes about dads “babysitting” their own kids or needing Mom to mother them as well.

Yet there’s nothing in our biology that says men can’t be kind, warm, and nurturing. In fact, our biology tends to suggest the opposite: men are just as good at caretaking as women are.

The problem seems to be more socialization than anything. Particularly in the West, men are taught that the only acceptable emotion is anger or aggression. It’s difficult for men to express their softer feelings—such as that nurturing drive to take care of their children.

Instead, men are encouraged to channel their emotions into aggression. From there, they become “protectors” and “providers.” Thus we end up with a gendered divide in caretaking behaviors. Women are nurturing, providing comfort, food, and virtually everything else, while men provide protection.

In the modern world, this is protection against the world at large. A man goes to work and earns a wage to provide for his family—thus protecting them from hunger, cold, extreme weather, and other ills that could negatively impact their children’s survival.

This upholds the Victorian public/private divide. Men inhabit the public sphere, facing down a cold, uncaring world and interacting with individuals who, if not actively hostile, are disinterested and apathetic to the survival of a baby. Women, in turn, shield the children from harsh realities of the outside world, instead creating a home environment that is warm and loving.

Or so the story goes, anyway. There are plenty of mothers who feel aggression or apathy toward their children. There are plenty of fathers who render warm, nurturing care that is often thought of as the domain of women.

Men and the Maternal in Mpreg

Mpreg is thus an interesting genre because it allows cisgender men to adopt the maternal role to its fullest extent. These men not only do the biological work of conceiving, carrying, and birthing the baby, they also have caregiving duties.

That then leads to a question: are these men not mothers in every sense of the word?
I’ve explored this idea before, in a post about parental terminology in omegaverse stories. As much as these men are mothers in every sense of the word, there’s resistance to giving them the epithet “Mom,” “Mama,” or “Mother.”


Clinging to Masculinity

It’s likely that writers want to maintain that these men are, in fact, still “men.” That is, since their biology miraculously allows them to assume the feminine reproductive role, there’s an argument that these characters are not, in fact, men or male. They are, if not female, then something in between.

Yet the genre is mpreg, short for male pregnancy, so we’re at odds with that conclusion. Readers don’t want the characters to be women. That would take us out of the realm of mpreg and put us firmly in the realm of regular old preg.

This is the same logic that keeps mpreg from wrapping itself around into featuring trans women characters. It’s an attitude that makes it difficult to include trans men—who are arguably the best real-life scenario for mpreg.

Misogyny might underlie these attitudes, but that doesn’t explain why readers are so comfortable with supposedly cisgender men easily adopting the maternal role. Yet it’s almost expected within the genre.

Can Men Mother?

At the same time, readers might be uncomfortable with the idea of men adopting the mothering role, in that we see there’s reluctance to label these characters as mothers. When it comes right down to it, many mpreg and omegaverse stories adopt terms like papa to identify the parent who gives birth.

“Papa” is a popular term. It’s softer than “Dad” or “Father,” so it’s reminiscent of the nurturing role played by “mama.” Yet why wouldn’t these characters adopt the term mother for themselves? Why, in a world full of nothing but men like Blake’s Heat of Love series, would the term mother fall out of use?

As I noted, there’s likely a drive to preserve some kind of masculinity here. Mother, mama, and mom are not terms associated with masculinity. In fact, when they’re associated with men, they’re emasculating. Certainly, men who nurture their children might be labeled “Mr. Mom”—in a most derisive tone. The implication is that “real men” do not—or should not—take on these roles or provide this kind of care. To do so is to be effeminate.

A Space Between Masculine and Feminine

Once again, we can wrap back to the idea that the feminine itself is somehow lesser or even degrading. To be a mother, then, is an inherently lower or lesser position, one men should eschew. Thus, even when men are fully adopted into the maternal role—including pregnancy and childbirth—we see authors rejecting the femininity imposed by the terms mom, mother, and mama. Instead, they opt to keep the masculine intact as much as possible, adopting, instead, terms like papa.

Papa, as noted, is a kind of compromise between the masculine and feminine. As much as it’s a masculine word, it has a softer sound, which marks it as less aggressively masculine than a term like dad or father. (Let’s not drag “daddy” into this, shall we?)

Yet for all its softness, papa is still a word associated with masculine forms of caregiving—not the maternal roles we see our cisgender men adopting in mpreg stories.

The only real reason to eschew terms associated with mothering is to keep up the veneer of masculinity. After all, if we take the “m” out of mpreg, what are we reading?

Misogyny in Word Choice

A Black man wearing a salmon shirt leans over the shoulder of a child wearing a yellow shirt as the child reads a book on a white bed.
Clearly, men can’t mother. (Ksenia Chernaya / Pexels.com)

The refusal to acknowledge men in mothering roles, like the refusal to acknowledge trans women or at least genderqueerness among our “male” MCs, is deeply rooted in misogynistic attitudes. Those attitudes devalue the feminine and femininity—and they’re probably what pushes readers to embrace mpreg but reject “regular old” preg stories. It’s the same with m/m romance more generally. Some readers enjoy the genre precisely because there are no women involved, so that removes any concerns about femininity, shame, and taboos around feminine sexuality. In the same way, mpreg removes anxieties around the feminine and femininity that are closely associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.

This leaves us with a sincere questions. Why not just call these mothering men “mamas” or “mothers”? After all, that’s what they are. In worlds like the Heat of Love or Edie Monte’s kobold series, women (or females) as such either don’t exist or are extremely rare and don’t participate in procreation. That leaves “masculine” elements doing the work of mothering—and in turn, words like mother, mama, and mom should become detached from the feminine.

Would “Mother” Be Feminine in a World without Women?

Yet, for some reason, they remain firmly attached to the feminine sphere. Readers and writers alike skip by them, instead opting to attach masculine terms to characters who, at best, occupy some sort of liminal gender space.

I’ve used the term mother for many of my male characters, which is a practice I endorse. After all, if we follow certain theories, then anyone and everyone can be a mother, simply by adopting a maternal role toward a child. With that in mind, then, all of my cisgender male characters who can and do get knocked up are mothers.

I think this line of argument is in solidarity with genderqueer people who avoid terms like woman or man, but identify themselves as mothers in relation to their children. The term, I think, should be less about one’s sex or gender identity and more about the work of caregiving and the nature of nurturing. If we think of mothering as a sort of professional identity—one that’s dictated by the work one performs—then it can be adopted by anyone, so long as they take up the mantle.

That, then, includes most leading characters in mpreg stories—and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

About the author

By Cherry

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