Predatory seduction: Scenting as a catalyst for power hierarchy in Omegaverse fan fiction

Kelsey Entrikin

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom

[0.1] Abstract—This article expands on previous scholarship on the subject of social power in the Omegaverse fan fiction genre and how its often unequal distribution can be used as a metric for the various community perspectives on power. I examine how the wolfish trait of scenting (produced by extra olfactory glands) can be read to reinforce roles of predator and prey within the genre using examples from the popular Teen Wolf fandom. While some Omegaverse fics might use the animal traits, such as scenting, to manufacture predatory relationships for purposes beyond social commentary, there is overwhelming evidence in the more popular fics to support a more critical examination within the community of the power hierarchies they interact with.

[0.2] Keywords—Power dynamics; Social hierarchy; Teen Wolf

Entrikin, Kelsey. 2023. "Predatory Seduction: Scenting as a Catalyst for Power Hierarchy in Omegaverse Fan Fiction." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 40.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The Omegaverse, also called Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics or A/B/O, constructs an alternate universe where characters are sectioned into three distinct statuses based on biological difference. Like many other subgenres of fan fiction, the Omegaverse subgenre uses fictional settings to reenvision social and sexual power dynamics. As described by pioneering Omegaverse scholar Kristina Busse (2013), the Omegaverse is broadly shaped by its social categories "where biological imperatives divide people based on wolf pack hierarchies into sexual dominants (alphas), sexual submissives (omegas) and everyone else (betas)" (317). Sometimes the genre casts power as biologically determined, while other times it is socially granted and maintained, but it is often maintained along the lines of a character's affiliation to one of these groups. The Omegaverse offers a speculative fantasy space for creators and consumers to explore their relationship to themes of social power hierarchies and biology through fictional worlds rife with animalistic characteristics that seem to indicate that these power structures are natural and/or biologically enforceable. Sometimes these characteristics are overt, such as canine and lupine traits including scenting, mate-biting, nesting, heats/ruts (mating imperatives), and knotting (swelling at the base of the penis that effectively leaves partners locked together post-coitus) becoming synonymous with the genre tropes. Other iterations of the Omegaverse feature more conceptual animality such as animal magnetism or other instinctual behaviors attributed to extrasensory input.

[1.2] But what do I mean by animality and why is it important in discussing this fan fiction genre? After all, the word "animal" is highly contested in many academic circles and has led to a relatively new area: Animal Studies. Traditionally, animality is associated with the nonhuman animal (sometimes referred to as the creatural, though the mileage on this term varies) (Ortiz-Robles 2016; Herman 2016). In the case of the Omegaverse, this typically means lupine (wolfish) or canine (doggish) traits. However, many animal-studies researchers have noted the futility of drawing a line between humans and animals, as humans are, in fact, animals as well. Many of the words we use to describe animalistic behaviors (including the ones included in this essay), such as growling or snarling, are also human behaviors, and to act as though they are separate is a falsehood. Additionally, notions of predator and prey are human concepts projected onto nonhuman animal behavior (Herman 2016; Marvin 2012). In reality, it is difficult to ascertain whether animals have concepts of hunter/hunted or predator/prey—and so humans use these recognizable dynamics from human behavior to describe animal behaviors. For the purposes of this paper, I use more traditional notions of the term animality—upholding the arbitrary line between human and animal. This is done for two reasons: The first is purely aesthetic and provides a clear semantic difference between human traits and animal traits—though I recognize they are often one and the same in reality. The second point, informed by the first, is that the Omegaverse fan fiction genre can be seen to draw distinctions between human traits and animal traits, and many of the fics take great pains to draw attention to these differences whether they are significantly diverse or eerily similar (as the case may be). Regardless of their explicit or implicit visibility as animalistic, within the wider fan fiction community traits such as scenting have become intrinsic to the Omegaverse and led to an association with wolves and wolf behavior.

[1.3] Each iteration of the genre is unique and can use any number of the tropes associated with the Omegaverse to be recognizable as A/B/O fan fiction, but for each of the existing scholarly examinations of the genre, there runs a throughline of power hierarchy. This can manifest as an exploration of gender roles and their affiliated social power within patriarchal cultures where one gender is privileged over others (Busse 2013; Gunderson 2017). Other scholars have focused on power hierarchies in the Omegaverse as being similar to racial inequalities as they exist in certain North American countries—though critics have suggested this connection can be read to trivialize racial trauma (Fazekas 2020). The focus of this article remains fixed on gender-based hierarchies of social and sexual power and how biology plays a role in enforcing these structures. In reality, gender and sex are often depressingly commingled, and Omegaverse fan fiction frequently continues this conflation of concepts within its fictional parameters, going so far as to call biological status of Alpha, Beta, or Omega designations "secondary genders" to explore their pliability within a space where biology dictates sexual and social positionality (Director 2017; Arnaiz 2018; Popova 2018, 2021; Weisser 2019). Previous scholarship has touched on themes of animal hierarchy explored through mating imperatives, called heats and ruts, and how they produce explicitly sexual power hierarchies. Others have looked to the potential pregnancies made possible by these mating imperatives (regardless of gender or sex) as a site for predatory transgressions (Director 2017; Weisser 2019). While often exaggerated with the aid of animal traits and impulses, the Omegaverse hosts myriad opportunities for academic exploration of power exchange and how it is commingled with so many areas of lived experience for writers and readers within the Omegaverse community.

[1.4] This article expands on these themes of social (and sexual) power in the Omegaverse and how its often unequal distribution can be used as a metric for the various community perspectives on the topic. However, unlike previous scholarship, I look at power dynamics in the Omegaverse through the animal characteristics it employs and how this can lead to power dynamics of predator and prey more often than not. I examine how the wolfish trait of scenting (produced by extra olfactory glands within the Omegaverse) can be read to reinforce roles of predator and prey. This reproduction of predatory behavior suggests an awareness within the Omegaverse community of the power differentials inferred from these animalistic roles and a proclivity for challenging them through their inclusion. While some Omegaverse fics use the animal traits, such as scenting, to purposely manufacture predatory relationships for the sheer enjoyment these dynamics bring to both readers and writers, there is overwhelming evidence in the more popular A/B/O fics to support a more critical examination of these roles within the community (note 1).

[1.5] This examination is conducted in three parts. The first is an exploration of the history of wolves and wolfish traits in literature as a metric for potentially predatory and sexually perverse behavior and how this may have been purposely coopted within Omegaverse dynamics to explicitly explore some of the subtext of animalistic predation. Using examples from the popular and prolific Omegaverse fandom for Teen Wolf (MTV, 2011–2017), a television program produced by Jeff Davis, this section looks at how the genre has incorporated literary traditions associated with wolves in order to reexamine these traditions through the lens of power dynamics within a largely men-love-men-centered genre. As the Omegaverse comprises more than 83 percent of mlm at the time of writing, using a wolf pack hierarchy can be read to impose power differentials that oftentimes mirror that of cis-hetero-gendered hierarchies onto same-gender couples, thus complicating the notions of predator and prey as potentially gendered roles. The second section considers the wolfish concept of the alpha male (Mech 1970) and how its influence has affected the notion of gender and power within A/B/O dynamics. The Omegaverse is a largely sexually explicit genre, with more than 70 percent of the A/B/O works on Archive of Our Own in 2022 labeled as Mature or Explicit due to themes of a sexual nature. As this section evidences, the Omegaverse positions sexual roles similarly to social roles (Popova 2018, 2021) and so the unequal, predatory power dynamics of Alphas and Omegas persist through various types of interactions within the genre. There are many parallels between the concept of the alpha male in reality and that of the male Alpha in the Omegaverse—particularly in how they perceive potential sexual partners as prey because of biological (or perceived biological) differences. However, the Omegaverse's use of the Alpha designation is not uniformly that of a predator. As such, the third section closely considers how the use of scenting in the genre contributes more to the delegation of roles, such as predator and prey, than A/B/O status itself in many fics. This final section argues that scent and other exaggerated animal traits in the genre can be used as a general metric for Omegaverse community thoughts on power and how it can be exchanged within social hierarchies navigating animalistic impulses that have been normalized as inescapable.

[1.6] Like much fan fiction, each iteration of the Omegaverse is different. As such, the examples in the following section present a small survey of the Omegaverse genre as it exists presently; the conclusions of this article are far from universally applicable. While many of my own conclusions are generalized, there are always exceptions, and this article does not seek to minimize the contributions of fics that do not follow the patterns or tropes discussed within this work. However, through my years of PhD work on the subject and the hundreds of A/B/O fics that I've read, I am using Popova's (2020) follow-the-trope method of qualitative fan-studies research to narrow the examples in this article to the Teen Wolf fandom because these particular works are representative of wider Omegaverse trends and exemplify the more popular conventions of the genre. I use this particular fandom not only because the source material involves wolves (and some popular wolfish lore) and the fics often take full advantage of these wolfish traits but also because this fandom—alongside fandoms such as the one based around television show Supernatural (CW, 2005–2020)—could be said to have founded the Omegaverse genre in online fan fiction spaces. In fact, until late 2019, fandoms of the television shows Supernatural and Teen Wolf held the top two spots for the most prolific and popular A/B/O fics on Ao3 (arranged by kudos, which are indications of appreciation from readers). Considering the earliest recorded Omegaverse fan fiction was published in 2010 (norabombay 2012; netweight 2013; Popova 2018), this nearly decade-long popularity within the genre affords Teen Wolf two distinctions that serve this article. The first is that as an arguable founder of the genre, many of the traits popularized by Teen Wolf A/B/O fics became standard practice for the genre. For example, the notion of imprinting (predestined mates)—that was previously popularized by fandoms including the Twilight series (2005–2008)—became increasingly popular in the Omegaverse after the publication of Teen Wolf fics such as Say It With Me (Don't Assume) by orphan_account (2014) or You Smell Like Mine, a fic by bleep0bleep & marguerite_26 (2015). Though scenting and imprinting existed in the genre previously, the prolific use of these combined traits in Teen Wolf A/B/O fics made their use common practice in the Omegaverse genre. Second, the reliance on wolfish tendencies as indicative of human behaviors is compounded in Teen Wolf fics, as the source material can be seen to similarly appropriate wolfish characteristics in order to express human desires. For example, the werewolves of the Teen Wolf television program also use scent as an indicator of mood or impending danger, and so the Omegaverse's use of scent to indicate emotional states, arousal, and social/romantic roles is easily read onto characters from the source material. This translation of source material into Omegaverse fan fiction conventions could be a contributing factor to the popularity of the fandom in A/B/O, though the fact that the show's runtime between the years of 2011 and 2017 coincided with the emergence of the Omegaverse genre in 2010 and 2011 (norabombay 2012; netweight 2013) could also contribute to its popularity within the genre. Additionally, as the next section shows, Teen Wolf, much like the Omegaverse, has a tenuous grasp on the difference between wolves in reality and the concept of the wolf as a symbol in Western cultures. All of the works used as examples in this article feature a relationship between the characters Stiles and Derek and are explicitly sexual. Though the sample size for this article is small, the works are exemplary (as evidenced by the number of kudos left) and are intended as generalized, qualitative accounts of the use of scenting in the genre.

2. Wolves and predatory tendencies

[2.1] One of the key markers of the tenuous grasp on the reality of wolves versus the wolfish traits (Busse 2013) of the Omegaverse is found in how the genre conceptualizes predation and hunger. The predation in the Omegaverse is often sexual rather than carnivorous—as evidenced by the majority of fics being rated Mature or Explicit due to sexual themes. Predation in the genre does typically work to sate an appetite, though it is sexual appetite rather than other forms of hunger typically associated with hunting and predator/prey animals. Given the genre's connection to wolves and wolfish behavior, this particular predation assuming a sexual connotation is not unusual or specific to the genre. Wolves are predatory animals by nature of being carnivores (Marvin 2012), but they have a long history of association with sexual predation and depravity. For instance, the folk tale of Little Red Riding Hood is often considered a metaphor for puberty or coming of age sexually with the wolf as a symbol of "natural urges" and "depraved male needs" (Zipes 1993, 80). According to wolf-behaviorist and literary scholar Garry Marvin (2012), "wolves became perceived and represented as creatures of dangerous and wicked intention because humans need an image for their own wickedness and wrong doing" (45). As briefly mentioned in the introduction, the use of animals as stand-ins for human behaviors is not uncommon. "Questions of gender and sexuality get mapped onto concepts of species identity" (Herman 2016, 2) fairly frequently and wolves are often associated, specifically, with the sexual depravity of men in the popular Western canon. Marvin (2012) notes that this affiliation between the sexual predation of men (toward women and other men) is inconsistent with actual wolf behavior but has become popular within the Western cultural understanding of wolves due in part to their association with themes of masculinity. Marvin writes, "[the] characterization of the wolf was clearly not drawn from what natural wolves do but rather emerges from a concern for what men are or what they might become" (2012, 68).

[2.2] Using the wolf, both the language of the popular conception of wolf pack hierarchies stemming from L. David Mech's original publication in 1970 of The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species—which popularized the concept of alpha, beta, and omega wolves—and the popular symbolism of sexual deviancy associated with wolves, the use of wolfish connotations provides an impression of the Omegaverse as a genre reproducing these wolfish tropes because of implicit power dynamics and sexuality associated with human men and patriarchal domination. While a rather pessimistic view of men in general, it does prompt an interesting question as to the utility of the symbol of the wolf in the Omegaverse. Does this depiction of men as wolves hunting for food when they are in fact pursuing a potential romantic/sexual partner render the Alpha characters as problematic since it assumes their partners are prey? This potentially presents a problem with scenting in A/B/O, as it privileges the intel provided to Alphas through scenting over that of the Omegas, despite scent playing an important sensory role for both. Alphas are perceived, due in large part to their social privileges, as naturally dominant with more accurate senses and interpretations of sensory input—much more so than their Omega counterparts, despite both parties having the same olfactory biology in many A/B/O stories. The use of animal magnetism as a source for sexual gratification is a very important staple of the A/B/O dynamics, but it is perhaps too limiting an argument to suggest that this is the only reason these tropes are incorporated into the genre.

[2.3] I am interested in how the genre blurs the lines between human and animal by enhancing, to the point of exaggeration, these wolf-affiliated tendencies for Alphas and Omegas (note 2). The Omegaverse often positions acting on wolfish traits as entirely natural—making sexual predation and its associated behaviors (stalking, obsession, possession, and so forth) a normalized part of Omegaverse society. More accurately, it is normalized behavior for Alpha characters in the Omegaverse. For example, a male Alpha pursuing an Omega based solely on scent is not uncommon within the A/B/O dynamics, and because scent offers nonverbal indicators of emotion and intangible feelings, the Alpha pursuer can smell through subtle changes in the Omega's scent whether or not his romantic/sexual feelings are reciprocated or denied. Of the top ten most popular A/B/O fics on Ao3 at the time of writing, nine of them feature a main Alpha character stalking or feeling possessive of an Omega character they feel they have a claim to because of the Omega's scent and what emotional and physical states (i.e., arousal) that scent relays to the Alpha nonverbally. Many times, this possessive behavior and predatory sexual pursuit of an Omega character occurs before the two characters have spoken a word to each other. To say scent plays a role in naturalizing these wolfish traits and predatory seductions is almost an understatement. However, this use of nonverbal indicators as opposed to verbal ones poses an interesting query for the Omegaverse characters: Whether or not scenting and other wolfish traits become a different source of communication—complete with the potential for miscommunication. As previously mentioned, Alphas are often assumed to more accurately interpret nonverbal cues due to their higher social power. This leaves Omegas at a distinct disadvantage, as their side of events where scent is concerned are less likely to be believed if their account differs from that of the Alpha.

[2.4] For instance, in orphan_account's Teen Wolf fic Say It With Me (Don't Assume) (2014)—a fic with more than 10,000 kudos on Ao3 at time of this writing—the Alpha character's inability to scent the Omega character, due to a mishap in the Omega's youth that altered his olfactory capacity, leaves the Alpha unable to pursue the Omega because he cannot tell if his attempts would be welcome (note 3). Told from the Alpha's point of view, the story revolves around this absence of reciprocal scenting to interrogate why these features are so important to relationship dynamics of the Omegaverse and how reliant the genre is on using scent from a storytelling perspective. This reliance on scent to determine whether the Alpha's attention toward the Omega would be an infringement on the Omega's autonomy, or the natural pursuit of an Alpha toward an Omega he finds appealing, presents an interesting line between natural and unnatural within the A/B/O dynamics—a line built on the concept of nonverbal consent offered through scenting. Unlike popular notions of the wolf as a natural sexual predator, the Omegaverse uses animal traits such as scenting to interrogate the concept of natural predation.

[2.5] In Say It with Me (Don't Assume), instinct is placed in direct contrast to predatory expectation, though both are presented as natural outcomes. The following excerpt from the Alpha's perspective illustrates possessive behavior prompted by scenting as both entirely natural and a site for potential miscommunication.

[2.6] He's almost overwhelmed by the urge to sweep Stiles up into his arms and find him a proper bed. The need to take care of his mate—
But Stiles isn't his mate, Derek reminds himself, although it's difficult with Stiles' heat scent clouding his senses, mingling with Derek's own scent because Stiles is in heat in Derek's office. (orphan_account 2014)

[2.7] This excerpt indicates to readers that the Alpha, Derek, uses scent to change the previous dynamics of his relationship with the Omega, Stiles, into something much more possessive. Thinking of the Omega as his mate suggests that Derek intends to pursue Stiles in the same way a hunter would pursue prey, though as I mentioned previously, the pursuit is largely sexual in nature. Even in this new dynamic of possessive Alpha and potentially possessed Omega, the Alpha reminds himself that the Omega is not his property. This deviation from the expected sexual predation affiliated with both the Omegaverse genre and the interpretation of wolfish desires as predatory and immediate suggests that the Alpha characters of A/B/O are perhaps more critical of their instincts and how their behaviors will be received by Omegas—complicating the rather simplistic dynamic of predator and prey. The questioning of instinct, both when scent is present and when it is absent, suggests that Say It With Me is more critical of the Alpha role as a whole.

[2.8] The careful consideration of the Omega's consent instead of relying on nonverbal indicators could be read as privileging the Alpha character's decisions over the Omega character's instincts and nonverbal indicators. In this way, Say It With Me and many of the other fics that manipulate relationship dynamics through scent can be read to interpret the predatory role as more important to the relationship—thus cementing the predatory role as more powerful. This leveraging of powerful roles as more valid and indicative of natural order mirrors many Western cultures—though perhaps none more so than the namesake of the male Alphas of the Omegaverse: the concept of the alpha male. However, nature has very little to do with this privileging of certain social roles.

3. The alpha males and their fan fiction counterparts

[3.1] Returning to the history of wolves in popular culture and their influence on the Omegaverse, the concept of the alpha male was initially made popular by Mech's (1970) book on wolf behavior. Mech initially concluded that wolves construct a social framework based on power hierarchy of alphas as leaders of the pack, betas as second in command to the alphas, and omegas as lowest on the social ladder of power. Unfortunately, this initial conclusion of wolf behavior was based on data from Rudolph Schenkel's 1947 study on domesticated wolves (quoted in Mech 1991), and when attempted replication of the data on wild wolves was conducted by Mech, he discovered his initial findings and publications were far from accurate (Mech 1991; Mech and Boitani 2003). Instead of a power hierarchy, Mech found that wolf packs are actually family units with two parents that he had mistakenly labeled as alphas, family (mistakenly labeled betas), and pups that are raised communally by the whole pack alongside elders unable to fend for themselves and mistakenly labeled omegas. Far from being a patriarchal system of power, the society of wild wolves, Mech found, was far more communal than the data from domesticated wolves initially indicated, with shared power and collaborative roles. Although Mech has spent the majority of his career since his initial publication trying to remove The Wolf (1970) from print and disprove the notion that wolves construct these social hierarchies in the wild, the concept of the alpha male as the pinnacle of the pack persists in popular culture. The widely adopted iteration of the alpha male does not find its roots in observable wolf behavior but rather in studies on domestication and the popular human imagination. This has interesting implications for the conception of the male Alpha in the Omegaverse, as it suggests that the wolf-pack hierarchies of the genre are based more on popular culture's conception of an alpha than they are on actual nonhuman animal behavior.

[3.2] But the concept of a superior, naturally occurring alpha male did not end with Mech's studies. While it became popular in the Western cultural lexicon after Mech's 1970 publication, the term "alpha male" has come to epitomize notions of human masculinity and the privileges it often affords. It has come, in fact, to represent a form of hegemonic masculinity that includes total sexual submission and fidelity from sexual partners (Schell 2007), dominating all women and other men through physical strength, if not force (Schell 2007; Ging 2019; Armato 2013), and fiscal stability—if not extreme financial success (Menzie 2020; Ging 2019; Schell 2007) within a patriarchal society. The alpha male is characterized by physical strength, dominance, sexual appeal, and riches that afford these (typically heterosexual, cisgender, white) men the highest possible position of power within a heteropatriarchal social hierarchy. Interestingly, it is also this portrayal of alpha males that became, and continues to be, a popular model of heroism in modern mass-market heterosexual romance novels (Lynch, Sternglantz, and Barot 2012).

[3.3] The inclusion and promotion of male protagonists associated with wolfish traits such as unapologetic, domineering behavior and predatory seduction techniques that liken potential partners to prey have been read by critics to romanticize and normalize these behaviors within many Western cultures. Noting the aggression through which these heroes have been classified, romance-novel theorists Katherine Lynch, Ruth Sternglantz, and Len Barot (2012) suggest that the alpha male may have transformed into a more palatable (or perhaps romanticized) iteration in recent years for contemporary romance-novel readers: "The alpha hero wasn't alpha for nothing, and he did not go quietly…The alpha male returned with claws, fangs, and wings, becoming even more of an alpha-creature than previously…He also resumed his controlling, territorial, and dominant ways."

[3.4] Both the alpha males of paranormal romance novels (Lynch, Sternglantz, and Barot 2012) and the male Alphas of the Omegaverse feature animalistic traits that are used to reinforce these characters' positions of power through a naturalization of their dominance. For example, the Alpha characters assuming roles of power within many Omegaverse fics is often constructed as natural, given their biology, when in fact the position is often a social privilege they are trained to expect. However, there are also Omegaverse fics that challenge these roles as natural and predetermined. The use of the alpha male concept in the Omegaverse is as much a continuation of equating masculine sexuality with wolfish traits as it is a parody of these intersections in popular culture.

[3.5] One of the ways the Omegaverse interrogates this role of alpha male and the perception of superiority it is so often conflated with is to question the naturalness of alpha males and their proclivity for sexual predation. There seems to be an awareness within the genre that the alpha male is a social construct, made to elevate the role of masculine sexuality. For instance, in the article "Violent Love: Hunting, Heterosexuality, and the Erotics of Men's Predation" feminist and sociologist Brian Luke (1998) suggests that "the erotic nature of hunting animals allows sport hunting to participate in a relation of reciprocal communication and support with the predatory heterosexuality prominent in Western patriarchal society" (628).

[3.6] While Luke's (1998) observations were taken from sport hunters (people who hunt for fun instead of survival) and therefore would be more applicable to an Omegaverse fic where Alphas pursue Omegas for sport instead of the typical mate-finding romance narrative, there is still an interesting emphasis on the crossover in concept between sport hunting and predatory seduction tactics in this excerpt. The sport-hunter men from Luke's study often compared hunting to sex with women in that both require predatory instinct, a desire to dominate, and a sense of phenomenal release. Perhaps most alarmingly, these men often correlated women with prey, as they felt women and animals were easily dominated through violence. This led Luke to the conclusion that there is "something seriously wrong with normal manhood in this [hunting] culture" (633) that they were so willing to normalize predation as a natural part of sexual pursuit. Luke's conclusions speak to the destructive masculinity associated with concepts like the alpha male and how it is not a natural position of superiority over women but rather a learned one. However, Luke's observation that these self-identified alpha male hunters view prey as distinctly feminine has interesting effects for the role of prey filled by male Omegas. It casts the Omega character as a particularly feminine role. Unlike male Alphas, male Omegas are often categorized as "female-coded" (Gunderson 2017), fulfilling the feminine sexual role within a heterosexual script (Popova 2018, 2021), or "stand-ins" (Arnaiz 2018) for women, as they are often capable of becoming pregnant and experience bodily changes in a way traditionally consistent with young women. While this does not exemplify all male Omega characters in the Omegaverse, it is definitely a theme to frame Alpha/Omega relationships through the lens of heterosexual gender roles rather than by their shared male identity and mlm relationships (Busse 2013; Popova 2018, 2021). Because of this connectivity, the Omegaverse genre has a tendency to question the naturalness of predator and prey roles in tandem with the conceptualization of Omegas as feminine.

[3.7] Some of the earlier Omegaverse fics, such as Teen Wolf fics His Only Defence by LunaCanisLupus_22 (2012) or Hello, Heartbreaker by astoryaboutwar (2013) popularized this trope of conflating natural predation and gender roles in Alpha/Omega relationships, but it is the aptly titled You Smell Like Mine, a fic by bleep0bleep & marguerite_26 (2015), that explores how these dynamics are intrinsically related in the genre. This Teen Wolf fic, with more than 15,000 kudos, is set in the North American collegiate system where shared accommodation is naturalized. Derek, the Alpha, is in a leadership position, as he is both an older student near graduation and the dormitory's resident advisor. Stiles, as a first-year Omega student in Derek's dorm, starts in a position of lesser power that continues throughout, though with distinctly different dynamics when scenting is introduced. What is most fascinating about this particular fic is that it can be read as conscious of the potential to describe male Omega characters as feminine due to their status as an Omega rather than their gender identity as men. This is accomplished through an almost immediate examination of the concept of the alpha male and whether those expected instincts of predatory behavior can be trusted. For example, the summary provided by the authors muses on the expectations of Alphas from the Alpha character perspective and suggests that instinct is perhaps more performative than ingrained.

[3.8] People talk about the alpha instinct, an alpha's head being swayed by a nice-smelling omega, or the desire to drop everything and show off. Derek's never felt any of that. He's just not that kind of alpha.
Then he meets Stiles. (bleep0bleep & marguerite_26 2015)

[3.9] While this explicit designation of Alphas as easily swayed by scent into elaborate shows of dominance proves to be a forewarning for Derek's character, it also provides insight into the use of scent to instigate predatory behaviors and describe them as instinctual. The Alpha's insistence at "not being that kind of alpha" suggests a certain disdain for his expected social role. But this particular phrasing is curious, as it could be interpreted as Derek finding the notion of being dictated by his instincts as opposed to his own will as an unwanted reality. Or it could be interpreted as the Alpha's desire to escape the biological manipulation expected of Omega pheromones. This second reading is ominous in that it suggests, much like Luke's (1998) sport hunting subjects, that there is a particular distaste for feeling inferior to one's prey, whether that be women, male Omegas, or animals. While subtle, this potential implication of wanting to be independent of Omegas and their potentially manipulative scent suggests that Derek does perceive himself as better than not only Omegas but also other Alphas. However, as the last sentence of this excerpt predicts, this proves to be a short-lived title, though it does present an interesting perspective on how power and predation coalesce within this genre.

[3.10] As I noted above, scent plays a significant role in how predatory and gendered roles intersect. For instance, when the Alpha does catch the Omega's scent, the following exchange prompts a sudden shift in power dynamics: "Derek was completely unprepared, too, for the way his scent mixed with the omega's own, that the joint scents smelled right to him, mine mine mine, that called to him to take a step closer" (bleep0bleep & marguerite_26 2015). The possessive repetition of the "mine, mine, mine" in Derek's head reads as an acknowledgment of the predatory instinct coming to the fore in their relationship. This is compounded by the Alpha's desire to come closer to the Omega, suggesting a pull or initiating a chase toward his Omega prey. While the shift toward roles of predator and prey is explicit in this scene, the gendered roles are more implicit. Later lines in the fic describe Stiles as "adorable" and "delicious" smelling, but it is his status as an Omega that has the connotations of femininity ingrained. The Alpha assumes that Stiles will take the submissive, feminine sexual role—and he does. It is assumed that Stiles will perform the emotional responsibilities of the relationship, such as confessing attraction first, addressing relationship status first, and discussing emotions openly within the relationship—and he does.

[3.11] The connectivity between Omegas, prey, and women is seemingly intentional, as it is often sparked by implementing instinctual, animalistic behavior such as scenting. However, this notion of animal instincts shifting male Alphas into alpha males in pursuit of sexual prey is not universal within the Omegaverse. In fact, more recent iterations of the genre have used this connection between animality, predation, and gender roles as a way to subvert expectations of the genre and investigate how animality affects characters outside of the typical alpha male narrative. The final section in this article looks at the use of scent to instigate animal instincts and predatory behavior in Omegas as opposed to Alphas, to discuss whether it is the gender roles indicated by status that dictate predatory roles as suggested by Luke (1998) or whether it is the wolfish traits themselves that indicate predatory behavior.

4. Predatory omegas and instinctual behaviors

[4.1] The final fic I examine is I don't know why, but I guess it has something to do with you by LunaCanisLupus_22 (2017). Unlike the previous fics, this fic uses scent as a way to prompt predatory behavior in both the Alpha and the Omega at different times throughout the story. Much like You Smell Like Mine (2015), the use of scent to spur the Alpha into aggressive behaviors that demand the Omega fulfill the role of prey is recognizable by the Alpha's possessiveness. However, using scent to promote aggressive and predatory sexual advances from the Omega toward the Alpha is somewhat unusual within the Omegaverse, particularly when this fic was published in 2017. As this fic remains one of the top ten most popular fics of those tagged as A/B/O on Ao3, to say its unusual approach to Omega characterization and relationship with animality has made it a continual fan favorite is something of an understatement. LunaCanisLupus_22's I don't know why is far from an outlier in positioning predation brought about by scent and other wolfish traits as mutually accessible for Omegas as well as Alphas in Omegaverse fics. In fact, the most popular fandom in A/B/O-labeled fics on Ao3 at the time of this writing is BTS real-person fiction (RPF)—a fandom with a reputation for positioning all A/B/O dynamics as equally capable of predatory seductions. Works such as PinkBTS's The Omega Revolution (2017), decompositionbooks' Nu ABO: A Memoir by Park Jimin (2016), and momora's Saltation (2017) all feature Alpha/Omega pairings where an Omega can be just as sexually aggressive and predatory as Alphas. However, LunaCanisLupus_22's fic was among the earlier works to play with Omegaverse reader expectations of Omega behavior using the animal traits of the genre, and it remains one of the most popular even six years after its initial publication.

[4.2] In the fic, the characters Alpha Derek and Omega Stiles are drawn together because of scent but resist acting on what are described as natural urges because of their professional working relationship. This fic illustrates the author's concern for integrating the natural (mutual attraction garnered through scent) with the unnatural (professional workplace relationships) and how this produces a relationship dynamic that is neither naturalized nor abnormal. However, when Stiles finds Derek's scent too alluring to resist in a workplace setting, the following scene occurs:

[4.3] Stiles doesn't really know what happens next except suddenly he's got a grip on the front of Derek's shirt and his face is buried in his throat. He inhales like he's forgotten to breathe, falling into the intensity of the alpha's scent eagerly. Locating where it's the most potent. He's gasping and panting, open mouthed and flushed before he [realizes] that maybe he shouldn't have his face in a strange alpha's neck, practically getting stoned off his scent. (LunaCanisLupus_22 2017)

[4.4] While the references to scent as a depressant, equivalent to getting stoned, might suggest Stiles is intoxicated by scent, he is also the pursuing partner in this scene. He becomes actively predatory after inhaling the Alpha's scent, and the Alpha can be read as participating in the passive prey role, since he is largely inactive in this scene. The Omega "doesn't really know what happens," denoting the action of grabbing at the Alpha in order to inhale his scent is instinctual. This acting on animal instinct in an actively predatory manner suggests that Omegas are equally predatory in nature but often accept the prey role (potentially to pacify Alpha temperaments, though the reasoning may change from fic to fic).

[4.5] This iteration of the Omegaverse describes predatory instinct brought about by scent as a sort of cyclical predation. While scent often prompts a sexual magnetism between characters, the dynamics are frequently written as the Alpha becoming more predatory and the Omega becoming the sexual prey, as the previous sections evidenced. In the following scene, the Omega character muses on his own predatory behavior toward an Alpha, revealing how social power hierarchies that often privilege Alpha characters has warped the Omega's relationship with his own animal instincts: "He straight up just jumped an alpha because he got the slightest hint of his scent and went hare-brained. What kind of omega does that? It's shitty alphas who try that shit because they think they can get away with it" (LunaCanisLupus_22 2017). This excerpt speaks to the social expectations of Alphas and Omegas and how they are assumed to interact with animal instinct within many iterations of the Omegaverse. For instance, Alphas who want to take advantage of their position of social prominence will act on instinct and blame animality for this behavior if it results in social critique. Alternatively, Omegas are not expected to act on animal instinct prompted by scent and thus are not assumed to have the animal instincts at all. Obviously, this assumption is a falsehood, as the Omega in this story does have predatory instincts that cause him to scent the Alpha seemingly without conscious thought. This suggests that the social position of Omegas, with its expectation of being prey, has been determined by the frequency with which Omegas fulfill the prey role rather than an accurate impression of Omega character instincts and whether or not they allow these instincts to guide their actions.

[4.6] While there are many interpretations of this particular positionality of Omegas within the social power hierarchy, I would argue that LunaCanisLupus_22's fic and its popularity suggest the Omegaverse community of readers and writers are very much aware of social double standards and how these double standards affect peoples of lessened social power. The Omega acting on instinct in a predatory manner is unusual, but in the fictional setting, he faces no repercussions for these social infractions. Whereas in real life there are often consequences for those in positions of precarious power when they act outside of expected norms, in the speculative genre of the Omegaverse, this subversion of predicted behavior is enticing and suggests the A/B/O community is aware of and critical of the predatory dynamics so often used within the genre.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] Claude Lévi-Strauss (1964) writes that "animals are good to think with," describing their use in folklore and fairytales as indicative of human behavior but through a more distanced lens than that of human interaction. As I have argued, the Omegaverse has used the popular conception of wolves and their affiliations with sexual predation to explore how these ideas circulate and are practiced within human relationships in reality. This often has the effect of reproducing positions of power as inherently predatory or navigating roles of lesser power as symbolic of other social groups, such as women as prey animals. Using the animalistic trope of scenting, many A/B/O stories are able to navigate some of the entanglements between dichotomies of natural/biological and social power structures. Scenting in the Omegaverse can be used as a tool to explore the interconnectivity of these ideas and how they can be seen to leverage one another in both fictional worlds and in reality. Absent many social taboos on thoughtless, instinctual behavior (often used as an excuse by those in positions of power) in reality, I argue that the Omegaverse often explores the sexual potential of these behaviors within a fictional framework where they are not demonized but celebrated.

[5.2] Many Omegaverse stories use scenting and predation to reframe predatory dynamics through a lens of fantasy, both sexual and speculative. Much like the alpha males of paranormal romance before it, the Omegaverse reimagines the appeal of power hierarchies and how a character can find pleasure in roles of predator and/or prey. While there is much more scholarly work to be done on the animal tendencies present in this genre, the Omegaverse and the community that produces it have much to say on issues of power and how it is distinguished within a community.

6. Notes

1. When I refer to popularity in the Omegaverse genre, or wider fan fiction, I am referring to the number of kudos a work has garnered from the general user base on the most popular of the fan fiction hosting sites, Archive of Our Own (Ao3). Kudos are a function on the Ao3 site that work similarly to "likes" in that they are the quickest unit of measure to determine a fic's popularity within the community, as leaving kudos requires just one click as opposed to writing a comment. Kudos can be awarded only once, and so the number of kudos on a fic becomes a more comprehensive measure of popularity—especially when multichapter fics can receive comments on every chapter but only one kudo. It is because of this easy navigation and open access of data that I have elected to use Ao3 as the primary data source for this paper.

2. I exclude the category of Beta from this particular exploration of the A/B/O dynamics, as Betas typically lack the extra olfactory senses required for scenting and traditionally lack all other wolfish traits affiliated with the Alphas and Omegas of Omegaverse—making their inclusion in this discussion irrelevant.

3. Playing with scent as a way to establish relationship roles is fairly common within A/B/O and became especially popular after the success of fics such as Gilded Cage by BeautifulFiction (2013) from the Sherlock fandom (Gunderson 2017) and revealed by Valinde (Valyria) (2014) from the Supernatural fandom. Similar Teen Wolf fics including Hello, Heartbreaker by astoryaboutwar (2013) and Knot if You Don't Knock by jsea, maguerite_26 (2014) also contributed to the number of fics that use scent to introduce predatory dynamics between partners.

7. References

Armato, Michael. 2013. "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: Men's Enlightened Sexism and Hegemonic Masculinity in Academia." Women's Studies 42 (5): 578–98.

Arnaiz, Laura Campillo. 2018. "When the Omega Empath Met the Alpha Doctor: An Analysis of the Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics in the Hannibal Fandom." In The Darker Side of Fan Fiction: Essays on Power, Consent and the Body, edited by Ashton Spacey, 116–39. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

astoryaboutwar. 2013. Hello, Heartbreaker. Fan fiction. Archive of Our Own, April 5, 2013.

bleep0bleep & marguerite_26. 2015. You Smell Like Mine. Fan fiction. Archive of Our Own, November 28, 2010.

Busse, Kristina. 2013. "Pon Farr, Mpreg, Bonds, and the Rise of the Omegaverse." In Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking over the World, edited by Anne Jamison, 288–94. Dallas, TX: BenBella.

decompositionbooks. 2016. Nu ABO: A Memoir by Park Jimin. Fan fiction. Archive of Our Own, September 12, 2016.

Director, Elliot Aaron. 2017. "Something Queer in His Make-Up: Genderbending, Omegaverses, and Fandom's Discontents." PhD thesis, Bowling Green State University.

Fazekas, Angie. 2020. "Alpha, Beta, Omega: Racialized Narratives and Fandom's Investment in Whiteness." In Fandom, Now in Color, edited by Rukmini Pande, 95–108. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Ging, Debbie. 2019. "Alphas, Betas, and Incels: Theorizing the Masculinities of the Manosphere." Men and Masculinities 22 (4): 638–57.

Gunderson, Marianne. 2017. "What Is an Omega? Rewriting Sex and Gender in Omegaverse Fanfiction." Master's thesis, University of Oslo.

Herman, David. 2016. Creatural Fiction: Human-Animal Relationships in Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Literature. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1964. Totemism. London: Merlin Press.

Luke, Brian. 1998. "Violent Love: Hunting, Heterosexuality, and the Erotics of Men's Predation." Feminist Studies 24 (3): 627–55.

LunaCanisLupus_22. 2012. His Only Defence. Fan fiction. Archive of Our Own, July 6, 2012.

LunaCanisLupus_22. 2017. I don't know why, but I guess it has something to do with you. Fan fiction. Archive of Our Own, October 28, 2017.

Lynch, Katherine, Ruth Sternglantz, and Len Barot. 2012. "Queering the Romantic Heroine: Where Her Power Lies." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 3 (1).

Marvin, Garry. 2012. Wolf. London: Reaktion Books.

Mech, L. David. 1970. The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species. New York: Doubleday.

Mech, L. David. 1991. The Way of the Wolf. Stillwater: Voyageur Press.

Mech, L. David, and L. Boitani. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Menzie, Lauren. 2020. "Stacys, Beckys, and Chads: The Construction of Femininity and Hegemonic Masculinity Within Incel Rhetoric." Psychology and Sexuality 13 (1): 1–16.

momora. 2017. Saltation. Fan fiction. Archive of Our Own, December 6, 2017.

netweight. 2013. The nonnies made them do it! Fan fiction. Archive of Our Own, October 28, 2013.

norabombay. 2012. Alphas, Betas, Omegas: A Primer. Archive of Our Own, May 13, 2012.

orphan_account. 2014. Say It With Me (Don't Assume). Archive of Our Own, August 22, 2014.

Ortiz-Robles, Mario. 2016. Literature and Animal Studies. London: Routledge.

PinkBTS. 2017. The Omega Revolution. Fan fiction. Archive of Our Own, June 6, 2017.

Popova, Milena. 2018. "'Dogfuck Rapeworld': Omegaverse Fanfiction as a Critical Tool in Analyzing the Impact of Social Power Structures on Intimate Relationships and Sexual Consent." Porn Studies 5 (2): 175–91.

Popova, Milena. 2020. "Follow the Trope: A Digital (Auto)ethnography for Fan Studies." In "Fan Studies Methodologies," edited by Julia E. Largent, Milena Popova, and Elise Vist, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 33.

Popova, Milena. 2021. Dubcon: Fanfiction, Power, and Sexual Consent. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Schell, Heather. 2007. "The Big Bad Wolf: Masculinity and Genetics in Popular Culture." Literature and Medicine 26 (1): 109–25.

Weisser, J. T. 2019. "Transmasculinities and Pregnant Monstrosity: Hannibal Omegaverse Fan-Fiction." Cultivate: The Feminist Journal of the Centre for Women's Studies 2.

Zipes, Jack. 1993. The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.