On misogyny and female columnists

Nick Cohen's intervention is welcome but let's not kid ourselves that he "nailed" it first.

Yesterday, Nick Cohen wrote a piece criticising the Telegraph's Daniel Knowles.

Cohen accused Knowles of misogyny in a piece he'd written about Laurie Penny, and then neatly segued into an overarching condemnation of the way female columnists are treated in comparison to their male counterparts.

Nick Cohen was right when he accused journalists of finding "a special thrill in attacking women who write forcefully about politics", but I don't agree that Daniel Knowles was particularly misogynistic. No matter though; because this piece isn't about either of them. This piece is about us.

Almost as soon as the piece was published, "Nick Cohen" started trending on Twitter. Clicking on the topic revealed scores of men and women sharing and praising his article; congratulating him for "nailing" the subject.

Did he really? Funny; because I seem to remember contributing to a piece on the New Statesman a few weeks ago on this very subject. I remember Laurie Penny herself doing a better job of "nailing" it with her own piece a few days later. And, if I'm not mistaken, the Guardian asked four women to join a panel discussion about online misogyny that very same week.

Maybe I imagined all that: maybe it didn't happen. After all, it didn't trend on Twitter when women pointed it out; and if I remember rightly, a great deal of respondents told us to stop being so weak. Brendan O'Neill -- God love him -- even dedicated an entire column to it.

How strange, then, that Cohen's piece should be the subject of such adulation. How unfathomable it is that his opinion should be lauded more than those for whom misogyny is a lived experience. It seems, as one Twitter user put it to me, that when "feminist women call sexism they are portrayed as killjoys; when feminist men do it, they are portrayed as white knights riding to the aid of defenceless women."

The thing about living in a structurally sexist society -- yes, a patriarchy if you're not afraid of that old hoary term -- is that sometimes sexism happens without anyone even registering. It's not all Zoo magazine and "calm down dear" -- in fact it rarely is. Most of the time, it's just arduous, exhausting daily life. Most of the time it's men getting congratulated for saying the same things women have written about, debated, and received abuse for.

In 2009, an activist blogger called Chris Crass wrote about his experience of being told he was guilty of sexism. His female friend told him:

You cut me off when I'm talking. You pay more attention to what men say. The other day when I was sitting at the coffee shop with you and Mike, it was like the two of you were having a conversation and I was just there to watch. I tried to jump in and say something, but you both just looked at me and then went back to your conversation.

Crass went on to describe sexism in the activist group he was part of. He relays the moment where the women of the group try to explain the sexism they've experienced, and says "the discussion quickly turned into women defending themselves, defending their understandings of their own experiences".'

His account is ratified by reams of sociological research. In 1998, sociologist Senta Trömel-Plötz wrote, "Men, the speakers of the dominant style, have more rights and privileges. They exhibit their privileges and produce them in every conversational situation."

Don't get me wrong: there are feminist reasons to praise Nick Cohen's article. After all, we'll never smash the patriarchy until men start brandishing metaphorical hammers as well. But the congratulations he received weren't simply a result of him dipping his toe in the feminist water. It was relief: because now a man has condemned misogyny online, we women can be confident it's actually real.

With all due respect to Nick Cohen, I don't need him to tell me sexism is a problem. The twentysomething years I have inhabited this planet have taught me that. But I'm glad he threw his hat in the ring, because what he said was important. It's also, unintentionally, a reminder of how far feminism has to go.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.