|megpie71 (megpie71) wrote,|
@ 2018-01-28 09:32:00
Meg's Fanfic Likes And Dislikes - Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics
I'll come right out and say I'm not fond of this one unless it's done particularly well and with a lot of thought involved.
The main problems I have with A/B/O are these: it's based on shoddy science; it leads to shoddy psychology; it replicates all the worst elements of current cultural trends around toxic masculinity; it reinforces negative stereotypes about homosexual men; it generally tends to have very strong rape-culture undertones, if not overt rape overtones; and it's extremely misogynistic in application.
The wolf-pack dynamics study which gave the world the idea of "alpha", "beta" and "omega" wolves was flawed, to say the very least. It was conducted on captive wolves, which meant it wasn't actually looking at a genuine pack - it's the equivalent of determining details about a particular culture by studying only their prisons. Animal behaviourists studying wild packs reported back that actually, a wild pack is generally a family group - the so-called "alpha" roles are the parents, the "beta" roles are the older siblings, and the "omegas" are the younger pups in the pack. The determination of role is more about age and family rank rather than personal power.
Using this flawed science to build a picture of human psycho-social dynamics is, to put it bluntly, daft, and it's been daft ever since human behaviourists first started trying to do so. Humans are not pack predators, and if we look at our nearest relatives (chimpanzees) they tend to run to troops of multiple families, rather than packs of a single family unit. Humans aren't wolves. It should be noted: both inside and outside fandom, the people who appear to have the most invested in the idea of humans as lupine analogues tend to be authoritarian types, generally on the right-wing side of politics, where the idea of some people being "born leaders" and others being "born followers" fits in very nicely with any number of existing ideological stances.
To be blunt, A/B/O replicates a lot of the worst traits of toxic masculinity in its picture of the "alpha" (and it's worth noting: these terms are almost always used in reference to male characters). "Alpha" males are variously described as possessive, aggressive - often physically aggressive, demanding, controlling, and universally declared to be incapable of self-control while in "heat" - they have to mate with someone, whether that someone is willing or not, and they're not capable of clear thought while under the influence of their hormones. Yet somehow these people are highly desirable as commanders and leaders. The picture of the "omega" is hardly any better, being a stereotyped picture of the non-heterosexual male: effeminate, submissive, physically weak, needing to be protected and controlled, unable to resist sexual violence and even welcoming it (to the point of being passively suicidal), and also unable to control themselves when they are in "heat" - they have to be fucked by someone (usually an alpha, but a beta if they're desperate), and again, they're not capable of clear thought while they're in this state. Omegas are generally depicted as being "lesser" and "unworthy".
The whole idea that "men can't control themselves when they want sex" is one of the core notions on which rape culture is built. It's an idea girls and boys are taught virtually from the moment we start breathing the air in this culture. It's behind the notion of the "tease" (the person who turns a man on, and then doesn't follow through); the notion women have to monitor their behaviour very carefully in order to avoid sending "mixed messages" (funny thing about "mixed messages: it turns out men who rape understand perfectly well what's being communicated, they just ignore the bits they're not interested in); the notion of a woman "leading a man on" or "asking for it", and so on. Now, the version of this demonstrated in A/B/O is basically an exaggeration of the whole concept - we know men don't actually lose their ability to handle cognition as a result of erections, and they don't lose their ability to understand consent. But A/B/O stories, even the best of them, come with a strong message of "once the heat starts, the brain stops functioning" and ensure efforts to obtain consent are, at best, formulaic. Alphas will go after sex with whoever is nearest, generally aggressively; omegas will beg anyone to fuck them. Hells, they'll even settle for women if they have to.
Plus, of course, there's the misogyny underlying the whole thing. A/B/O is basically a fanfic trope which is about eliminating the need for female characters in your fanfic altogether. It allows for male pregnancy (I'll write another rant about mpreg later), thus eliminating the one possible need for a female character in the story. The A/B/O dynamics, as I've said, tend to be applied almost exclusively to male characters, and there's generally very little information about what happens with regard to women in these societies (occasionally there's a hint women generally tend to be omegas, with the occasional beta - never any female Alphas - this tends to particularly be the case in universes where omegas are considered "lesser"). As such, A/B/O fanfic tends to be an expression of the sort of world that Men's Rights Activists would love to live in (they'd all be alphas, of course; just ask them!). It's particularly disturbing to find this dynamic has spread so far and has so many fans when you consider the majority of fanwriters are women - it speaks to a degree of internalised misogyny which is somewhat frightening.
All of that said, I have found at least one example of A/B/O being written well. In this case, it's Cluegirl's Changelings series. The difference here is Cluegirl did her world-building. She figured out what needed to change biologically and physiologically in order to create A/B/O dynamics in humans, and why this change would have been necessary. She also thought about what would alter in human psychosocial dynamics with regards to male/female relations as well. She doesn't ignore the female characters, and she explains how they fit into the story and the world of the story. Plus, one of her major characters is able to switch between all three statuses (alpha, omega, beta) pretty much at will, except for under extreme circumstances (heat). It's one of the few A/B/O fic series I can tolerate on a regular basis and about the only one I'm willing to re-read.
Now, all of the above are basically the reasons why I don't read A/B/O - I'm not trying to dictate to anyone else, and I'm not going to attempt to stop anyone else from either reading or writing A/B/O fic. If you do write it in any of the fandoms I'm reading in (Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, and Marvel Cinematic Universe) the most I'd ask is you label it clearly, perform your research, and do your world-building properly.
[EDIT 6.42pm WST (GMT+8) 28 JAN 2018: I was reminded of another A/B/O fic I can handle. See my comment below for details.]
This entry was originally posted at https://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/111804.h