Is the Omegaverse Problematic?


By now, almost everyone and their mother has heard about the omegaverse. If you didn’t discover “wolf-kink porn” through the copyright debacle a few years ago, you might have heard of it when AIs seemed to devolve into writing a/b/o fics. That loaned support to the idea that AI had been trained on stolen fanfic—among other stories.

A laptop screen showing text of a screenplay. The screen is in focus, while the user's hands, which rest on the keyboard, are blurred.
(Ron Lach / Pexels.com)

Whether you’re brand new to omegaverse or you’ve been reading it for a long time, though, there is no shortage of takes on the subject—nor any shortage of folks musing on why it’s popular, why it’s horrible, and so on.

One the more recent queries I’ve seen cropping up is the question of whether omegaverse is problematic.

I think the answer to this question is a resounding yes—but the why largely depends on where you’re standing.

A Brief Recap of Omegaverse

Before we dive too deep, what is the omegaverse?

Omegaverse, also known as the alpha/beta/omega dynamic, is a popular trope. It started off in fanfic circles and has since made the leap to original fiction.

By and large, it’s a worldbuilding trope that asks, “What if people had secondary sexes?”

This categorization is based on an outdated theory about wolf packs (hence omegaverse being known as “wolf-kink porn”). Alphas are dominant, the so-called leaders of the pack. Betas might be their second-in-commands. And omegas are usually submissive.

Two gray wolves in the snow, facing the camera. Omegaverse is based on a now-debunked theory about wolf pack social dynamics.
“Wait, which one of us is the alpha again?” (Anne-Marie Gionet-Lavoie/ Pexels.com)

These designations don’t just apply to social hierarchies though. They’re also important in reproduction in the omegaverse. An alpha usually takes on the “masculine” role of inseminating their mates. Omegas, whether they’re “male” or “female,” are capable of getting pregnant and bearing live children.

As you might imagine, this leads to a lot of play around sex and gender identities—as well as social roles.

The Omegaverse as a Feminist Trope

One interpretation of omegaverse is to say it’s a feminist trope. It decouples “sex” and “gender,” allowing us to explore how society enacts gendered oppression. Omega becomes shorthand for discussing the feminine, even when we’re dealing with male characters.

Many omegaverses are feminist dystopias, similar to literature like The Handmaid’s Tale. Omegas are treated as property, reduced to their reproductive value, and rarely given any rights.Some might even say omegaverse mirrors certain historical periods or parallels certain alt-right ideologies, with ideas about “proper” roles for “men” and “women.”

In these dystopias, writers critique the ways women are sexed, gendered, and oppressed in our society.

The Omegaverse as a Queer Trope

Another way to look at the omegaverse is to see it as an inherently queer trope. Since sex and gender are decoupled, trans, intersex, and other genderqueer individuals are rife in omegaverse worlds.

There is no guarantee that any “man” in the omegaverse is a biological male. Similarly, there’s no guarantee any woman has an XX configuration.

Omegaverse thus becomes a meditation on how gender functions to shape our social realities. Omegas are functionally treated the same way women are in our society, which suggests the role they’re expected to play is less about their identity as a man or a woman, male or female, and more about the reproductive role they’re expected to play.

Why Would the Omegaverse Be Problematic?

So, if we have feminist and queer interpretations of the omegaverse, why would it be problematic?

One reason people might call omegaverse problematic is that it’s often centered around shipping and sex. In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of “anti-shipping” rhetoric enter fandom spaces. Generally speaking, this is just prudish right-wing propaganda, aimed at vilifying anything … queer or feminist.

Shipping discourse might also focus on the tendency of omegaverse to be, well, a bit dark. It might contain coercion, non-consensual sexual situations, and even rape. Anti-shipping discourse often seeks to send depictions of these real-life situations into the shadows. It often achieves this by suggesting that anyone who reads or writes such situations is “glorifying” the act. We either can’t include it or we have to make it very apparent that we don’t condone these acts. This has the effect of reducing complex relationships and emotions to black-and-white, good-vs-evil type scenarios. It precludes nuanced discussion or exploration of such situations and reactions to them.

None of these are the reasons I would say the omegaverse can be problematic. In fact, the reason I’d call omegaverse problematic is likely one most “anti” circles would gloss right over.

Omegaverse Pushes Bioessentialist Messaging

The worst sin, in my mind, is that the omegaverse often ends up reinforcing bioessentialist messaging. As much as it allows us to explore gender identity more freely or examine the oppression of women, many omegaverse writers fall into a particular trap.

That trap is the one that circles back to binary thinking. Men and women might be omegas, but omegas have “feminine” reproductive function and are thus shoehorned into the “feminine” role.
Meanwhile, alphas perform the “male” reproductive role and are shoehorned into everything we associate with masculinity.

As much as we’ve removed man = male and woman = female from the discussion, we’ve effectually swapped these terms for alpha and omega.

Nature vs. Nurture

From here, we run smack-dab into the problem. Omegaverse offers up a nature versus nurture debate. And all too often, it comes down hard on the side of nature.

Much the way humans with an XX phenotype are assumed to be feminine, omegas are expected to adopt a highly feminized role. Alphas, for all intents and purposes, must adopt a masculinized role.

A black and white image of a shirtless man taken from the back. The man lifts his arms and curls his fists to showcase his biceps. Defined musculature is generally considered a masculine trait.
“Do you even lift, alpha bro?” (Pixabay / Pexels.com)

And an omega who refuses femininity or demands more masculinity is seen as an outlier. Transphobic arguments begin to surface here, which suggest that omegas are always driven by their hormones or want certain things, regardless of their gender identity.

While omegaverse does offer some critique of this, all too often the omegas fall back on their biology.

Bioessentialist messaging has been used to argue female humans suck at sports, that they can’t do math, and that their proper place is in the home raising children. It’s the source of the myth that all humans with two X chromosomes have some sort of innate “mothering” instinct.

And omegaverse often advances this argument—then fails to debunk it.

So, yes, the omegaverse is problematic because it promotes the idea that biology is the be-all, end-all. All we’ve done is switch from using “men” and “women” to calling them “alphas” and “omegas.”

Not All Omegaverse!

Not all omegaverse stories fall victim to this. Some use this opportunity to critique the way bioessentialist arguments infiltrate our everyday lives. In fact, I’d argue most omegaverse stories do engage with the issue in some way.

At the end of it, though, most stories end up reinforcing this messaging, whether they intend to or not.

This is particularly apparent where the genre crosses over with mpreg. Most of the time, the “omega male” has settled down with the love of his life and is having babies, even if he railed against such a “fate” before. Even when this is a conscious choice on the part of the omega character, it reinforces bioessentialist messaging.

M/F omegaverse doesn’t necessarily escape here either. In many instances, we see shades of the issues that plague “strong female characters” in other genres. The woman may not need no man, but she almost always ends up with one.

Again, this works to subtly reinforce bioessentialist messaging. Women, no matter how strong or kickass they are, really crave romance. Even the strongest female character is going to fall into the arms of “the right man”—she just has to find him first.

Can We Avoid Bioessentialist Messaging?

Part of the problem with bioessentialist messaging is how ingrained it is in both our society and in our stories. That omegaverse often ends up reinforcing the same arguments it wants to critique is a testament to how pervasive they are.

So, how do we get around the issue?

It’s a sticky wicket, for sure. One reason it’s difficult to get around these arguments is genre expectations. If you’re reading a romance novel, you expect a “happily ever after.” If you’re reading mpreg, you’re going to expect someone will get knocked up.

And if they don’t? You’ll likely feel betrayed.

Yet those are the most obvious paths away from bioessentialist messaging. If your “male omega” character is railing against being typecast, advocating for his right to do things beyond get married and have babies, the most logical thing to do is not have him settle down. Yet such an ending betrays the reader—which is precisely why most omegaverse ends up subtly reinforcing these messages.

We have the same problems with “strong female characters.”

Art Imitating Life

Another issue is that, as social creatures, a lot of us do end up looking for love. So that the vast majority of characters eventually do find Mr. Right isn’t exactly unusual. Characters moving from a position of “I don’t need no man” to being happily involved in a relationship is not at all unrealistic or unreasonable.

So, what can we do? Simply allowing characters to have different “happy endings” is the best solution, but we must always be aware of genre conventions.

We can, of course, critique the messaging as best we can from the inside. We can also showcase characters who buck convention—perhaps as side characters or even leads who choose non-monogamy. Happy endings don’t all have to look the same, even if they do involve romance.

Much like mpreg maybe isn’t the genre that’s going to provide the most scathing critique of trans misogyny, though, perhaps our best bet is to look beyond omegaverse—or at least beyond omegaverse romance stories—to find space to debunk bioessentialist messages.

Of course, that doesn’t mean writers and readers shouldn’t be aware of what messages are being imparted in any given story. Knowing where they’re cropping up, after all, is the first step in breaking them down.

About the author

By Cherry

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