I spent about ten hours helping to pregnancy test 700 cows today. It’s the sort of lesson in reality everyone should take. The cows have to be brought in to the cattle yards, (which are concrete floored, ridged, pole and rail fenced with hardwood (to allow a little bend and yes, they are softer more flexible than metal. The cows have microchips in their ear tags, and there is backpack reader so one can keep count. The vet uses a backpack ultrasound. He also uses a shoulder-high glove for the purpose of being able to stick his hand in to the shoulder up a cow’s hind end. The crush itself has hydraulic help (but still takes a strong man). Anything else is done by the same means as it was a century ago. We use pieces of polypipe instead of stock-whips (which make a noise and not much impact.) The stock is moved by men, in rubber boots, yelling, shoving, walloping, swearing. Slithering in the cowpoo and pee which is liberally distributed (remarkably often as you try and shove the cow far enough to close the gate). There is no part of cows or person that is safe from it, and the yards that started the day clean are dangerous four inches deep in this delightful mixture. Cows slither, kick, get aggro, moo, bellow, baulk (a lot) and try to reverse out of raceways. The humans involved stand a fair risk of getting hurt, crushed, kicked and large chance of being on the receiving end of a face-full of flying bovine-excreta that has not even been through a politician (Okay so it is cleaner).
This is not a slaughter, nor is an ultrasound probe torture. The cows are walking out of the far end complacent and unhurt (or even, if they have a problem, treated). The incoming cows can see and hear the ones which have been through, quite tranquil. If the cows were even vaguely intelligent (and the older ones do do it as a matter of routine) the entire process would take a minute of their time and be very easy for all, us and them. If they kept it in for 2 minutes the process could be entirely free of politician and would be much more pleasant for everyone, especially the cows who decide to burrow under the one ahead, to avoid that terror the microchip wand (which does nothing more than go beep beep.).
Now this is, as extensive farms go, a very advanced one, owned by folk with a love of technology and the money to invest in it. As far as the future goes, for most cattle farms (which, let’s face it, are a reality until artificial vat-meat comes along for all which methinks may be a lot further down the track than a lot of sf, particularly dystopian sf) this is probably a bit like science fiction. A few years into a future they may never reach.
And that is the reality of the future. There will be hard, physical, filthy jobs. Jobs that see that the sleek little NY city latte sipper can sip lattes, now… and in 20 (or maybe 50) years’ time. Growing food, working with sewage. The day that robots are cheap and adaptable enough to do them will (barring dystopia/collapse) arrive. But it may be a lot further down the track than people who never did a filthy, hard, manual job can imagine. Because humans are very flexible and relatively easy to teach, and some of them are very skilled and very strong.
I read comments and, indeed, sneering rants by many of my writing peers who obviously have no idea about the need for these jobs, or the how physically hard these are. There is little acknowledgement they exist let alone have value, and rather like wild daydream of supergirl kicking lots of big male butt in hand-to-hand combat, if they admit they exist, the fact that these jobs are almost entirely done by men (and if they are done by women, they’re women who despise the average woman, or indeed city-dweller as total weakling wussies.) is never acknowledged. It’s interesting that in Australia, where the minimum wage is high, and the cities crowded… the starting wages for these sort of jobs are 25%-50% more than minimum (I earned more per hour today, paid promptly, in full and with no weaseling, than I have ever have as a writer (where prompt, in full and no weaseling are a dream). Something to think about). They come with all manner of perks from cheap to free housing, clothing, to meat or other produce. They battle to fill the positions… They’ll take anyone who can do the job (but you do have to be strong enough to lift a sheep, shove a cow into a crush, lift a 50kg basket of potatoes and not be afraid of rain, or snow, or mud, or bad smells). Most of the people taking it on remain male, fairly large (or tough as old whipcord). There are a few females, and a few who aren’t heterosexual, and possibly a few who aren’t quite conservative in their tastes and beliefs. But a gambler could have a very safe bet on the characteristics the people who keep the world fed, clean, able to get that latte. Let’s say you won’t find many in trad published sf, and never as heroes. One could come up with a far less-likely-to-pass-than-Bechdel-test, as to whether any real jobs which are unlikely to be affected by technology or plausible people doing them get mentioned – especially without sneering. Call it the Dirty-Reality test. On the other hand: a city checkout clerk job, minimum wage plus nothing will have 20 applicants (skewed to female). Jobs that are indoor, simple, clean and repetitive will automate… They won’t be there quite a lot sooner than dirty, flexibility-demanding, physical (but requiring gentleness too, and the judgment of requisite force) jobs.
If these people went away tomorrow… if they weren’t there in our future, without something to replace them (and they’re MUCH harder to replace than a checkout clerk with technology) civilization as we know it would last days. Yes, in a FAR future maybe. But in future we could recognize? No. I don’t think so. Yet: one of the darlings of a UK so-called newspaper The Guardian (proof that publishing when your audience doesn’t matter is easier when you do it on other people’s money) writes that SF needs to reflect the future is queer – because he was a boy of slight with long hair who kept being told to get a haircut! “Society gets angry when gender roles are blurred, precisely because those roles are a fragile act put on with clothes, hairstyles and makeup. If they weren’t enforced, clearly defined gender roles would not exist.” — Damian Walter (who isn’t a successful writer, but writes how wrong Larry Correia is to say what successful writing needs. Predictably Damien Walter can’t actually find anything Larry actually said, or provide a link to what he said, but makes shit up.)
To which I reply in tones redolent of the fragrant effluvia of cows I have been working with: ‘You’re smoking your socks, Sunshine. Somewhere in a future so remote that present readers would have little to identify with, maybe technology will do away with men in the role they always have occupied. But if sf (particularly sf set ‘near-future’ – like the next 200 years) wants to reflect any form of plausibility, men will still be the ones doing the cows. The fishing. Or the plumbing. The crew on the salvage tugs. Probably most of the bleeding and dying, most of the jobs that require a long neck and strong back, mental and physical flexibility. Any number of other jobs which attract little or no interest from the vast majority of women, because they’re dirty and hard. Yes there will be women doing them. There are now. But damned few. Gender roles are not fragile, and Damien Walter and all his ilk better hope they aren’t in future, or they may have to find out just how hard those hard men are for themselves. I’d pay good money to watch them slither around the cattle yards.