TIME health

Why So Many Women Are Crying at the Gym

Yoga mudra Stefano Oppo—Getty Images

For a generation of stressed-out working women, exercise is as much about emotional release as it is physical training.

“Let it out! Let out the sludge!”

It’s 7am on a Tuesday, at a small dance studio in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, and Taryn Toomey is stomping her feet into the floor like thunder. “Get rid of the bullsh*t!” she shouts. “Get rid of the drama!”

Two dozen women in yoga pants and sports bras sprint in place behind her, eyes closed, arms flailing. Sweat is flying. The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” is blaring in the background. There are grunts and screams. “Hell yes!” a woman bellows.

When the song ends, Toomey directs the group into child’s pose, torso folded over the knees, forehead on the floor, arms spread forward. Coldplay comes on, and there is a moment of rest. “Inhale. Exhale. Feel your center,” Toomey says. Heads slowly come up, and suddenly, tears are streaming down the faces of half the room. A woman in front of me is physically trembling. “I just let it all out,” a middle-aged woman in leggings and a tank top whispers.

This is “The Class”—one part yoga, two parts bootcamp, three parts emotional release, packaged into an almost spiritual… no, tribal… 75 minutes. It is the creation of fashion exec turned yoga instructor Toomey, and it is where New York’s high-flying women go for emotional release (if, that is, they can get a spot).

“During my first class I didn’t just cry, I sobbed,” says McKenzie Hayes, a 22-year-old New Yorker who has become a regular in the class. “Whether it’s your job or your relationships, I literally picture my emotional problems being slowly unstuck from my body and moved out.”

Toomey calls that “sludge”: it’s the emotional baggage we carry in our muscles that has nowhere else to go. She’s not a doctor. But week after week, she encourages participants to sweat, scream and cry out those emotions, in the company of a group of mostly women who are doing the same. “I’ve had classes where people are literally on all fours sobbing,” Toomey says. “But it’s not just my class, it’s happening everywhere. Emotional release in public can feel very uncomfortable. But I think there’s a growing movement of people who want to find a space for it.”

Indeed, the message to women has long been to hide your tears lest you look weak. (Among the tactics: jutting out your jaw. Breathing exercises. Chewing gum. Drinking water.) Yet while crying in the office may remain a feminine faux pas, tears at the gym seem to have lost their stigma — to the extent that there are a bevy of fitness courses that even encourage it.

For Asie Mohtarez, a Brooklyn makeup artist, it began in hot yoga. The music was on, the floor was warm, the instructor was standing over her encouraging her to let go. “I was in child’s pose and I just lost it,” she says. Then, two weeks later, it happened again – this time at Physique 57. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack came on and it was waterworks again. “There’s something about these classes that feel safe,” says the 33-year-old. “I can’t cry at work. I’m not emotionally distraught enough to cry in the shower. I can’t just burst into tears in front of my husband. So, what does that leave you with?”

You could go to therapy – or you could hit the gym. Women are getting teary in SoulCycle, and misty-eyed at Pure Barre. They are letting out wails in yoga and rubbing the shoulder of the weepy woman next to them at CrossFit. “I think people have started to notice that their clients are just showing up to class and just unloading, and so they’re tailoring their classes to create space for this,” says Hayes, who is a pilates instructor by day. “When I take private clients I end up feeling like a therapist for them.”

These fitness instructors aren’t trained in that, of course. But they’ve probably been there.

“I usually just go over to the student after class and quietly ask how they’re feeling,” says Kristin Esposito, a yoga instructor in Los Angeles who sees criers often. “My classes are focused on release so it feels pretty natural.”

Physiologically, it is: Exercise releases endorphins, which interact with serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals that impact mood. In yoga, deep hip openers – like the “pigeon pose” – are meant to stir emotions (yogis believe our emotional baggage lives in our hips).

But many of the newer courses are specifically choreographed to release emotion, too – making it all that much more intense. The lights are dim, candles flicker in the background. It’s not an accident that just as you’re starting to relax, coming down from the adrenaline, you’re blasted with a throaty ballad. Those playlists are meticulously constructed. “I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years, so I’ve basically seen it all: crying, laughing, throwing up, overheating,” says Stacey Griffith, a Soul Cycle instructor. “There are moments in the class that are directly programmed for that reason – but it’s not like we’re trying to get people to cry. We’re giving them the space to step outside of themselves.”

And indeed, that may be necessary. We’re busier, more stressed and more connected than we’ve ever been. Simply finding the time to have that “space” can be near impossible, making the release that these courses offer – packaged neatly into an hour – a kind of fix. “The night before, I can’t wait,” says Hayes of Toomey’s class. “I already know what will be the flood that I’m working through. And sometimes conversations with friends just don’t cut it.”

Getting those emotions out is a good thing – at least in moderation. Emotional tears contain manganese, potassium, and a hormone called prolactin, which help lower cholesterol, control high blood and boost the immune system. Crying reduces stress, and, according to one study, from the University of Minnesota, actually improves the mood of nearly 90 percent of people who do it. “You really do feel lighter after,” says Hayes.

“To me, it’s a sign of being present, it’s a sign of feeling your feelings, of being in the moment,” says Toomey, just after “the class” has ended. Plus, shoulder to shoulder in a hot room, there is almost a sense of communal release. Of high-charged emotional camaraderie. “I so needed this,” a woman tells her on the way out, with a hug. And, of course, with that much sweat, the tears are almost hidden anyway.

TIME Culture

Watch Taylor Swift Shut Down ‘Sexist’ Music Critics

Bruno Mars can write about ex-lovers. Why can't T-Swift?

Taylor Swift, a newly outspoken feminist, is defending her decision to write about past relationships. During a Sunday appearance on the Australian radio show Jules, Merrick & Sophie, Swift pointed out that she is unfairly criticized for her lyrics, while men who write about exes are not:

You’re going to have people who are going to say, “Oh, you know, like, she just writes songs about her ex-boyfriends.” And I think frankly that’s a very sexist angle to take. No one says that about Ed Sheeran. No one says that about Bruno Mars. They’re all writing songs about their exes, their current girlfriends, their love life, and no one raises the red flag there.

And unlike some other pop stars (we’re looking at you, Robin Thicke), T-Swift says she tries to keep the identities of the people she’s writing about a secret. “I have a really strict personal policy that I never name names. And so anybody saying that a song is about a specific person is purely speculating.”

So who knows who she’s really singing about in “Out of the Woods.” (Though everyone’s still pretty sure it’s about Harry Styles.)

TIME Culture

National Review Cover Story Calls Lena Dunham’s Rape Revelation ‘Gutless’

National Review

The article raises questions about the potential repercussions on the alleged rapist

The cover of National Review’s Nov. 3 issue quite literally paints Lena Dunham in unflattering terms — the words “cowardice,” “insularity,” “narcissism,” and “sex” are tattooed on her arm in the photo illustration.

This is not the first time those accusations have been leveled at the 28 year-old writer, director and actress. But Kevin Williamson, author of the cover story, “Pathetic Privilege”, takes a new line of attack with his harsh critique of one chapter of Dunham’s new book, Not That Kind of Girl. He turns Lena Dunham’s story about emotional and physical trauma she experienced after realizing a complicated sexual encounter was, in fact, rape into a story about the trauma the publication of Dunham’s story may present for her accused rapist who was identified in the book by a first name only.

Williamson writes that since Dunham was initially confused about the encounter (she was intoxicated at the time), never “felt the need to press charges, file a complaint, or otherwise document the encounter,” and won’t release the “medical records at Oberlin supporting the story,” her accusations are suspect.

He also calls Dunham’s publication of the story “a gutless and passive-aggressive act.” Dunham identified her rapist as a mustachioed Republican named Barry. Williamson writes, “It takes me about two minutes to discover a Republican named Barry whose time at Oberlin coincided with Dunham’s.”

In a web companion piece, Williamson notes that he contacted that Barry who says he never knew Dunham. And while it was one of the “most unfortunate coincidence of [his] life,” Barry doesn’t think Dunham meant to refer to him. (Williamson also suggests that the incident she describes may be completely fictional and thinks using the name Barry was negligent.)

Dunham is presented as the attacker of this anonymous young man’s reputation by accusing him of a crime. The story, which is accompanied by caricatures of a buck-tooth Dunham as well as a photo of her eating cake, is under a paywall. However, the Washington Post does a pretty good roundup of the most important points in the piece — including 10 references it makes about the women in Dunham’s family’s genitals.

Not everyone shares Williamson’s outrage. Others have suggested that complexity and ambiguity of Dunham’s story is why it resonates so strongly with young women for whom these kinds of experiences may be an unfortunate reality. (Since graduating, Dunham has become a fierce advocate for reform of campus sexual assault policies under which few women have reported rapes on campus.)

READ MORE: Lena Dunham’s Story of Rape Is a Must-Read

TIME Culture

Pakistan Should Embrace Malala

Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai addresses the media in Birmingham, England on October 10, 2014.
Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai addresses the media in Birmingham, England on October 10, 2014. OLI SCARFF–AFP/Getty Images

I feel pity for people who cannot find the grace and class within themselves to acknowledge this young woman


This article originally appeared on Patheos.

It’s a proud moment for Pakistan, but many Pakistanis aren’t embracing it.

Malala Yousafzai — the courageous, 17-year-old young woman who became a global beacon of hope for girls seeking to gain an education — has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Predictably enough though, it hasn’t taken long for the critics to mobilize.

Since Friday morning when the news broke, much of the response on social media has been favorable. But unfortunately, many reactions have been discouraging and antagonistic. One blogger wrote Yusufzai off as a “loser” who doesn’t deserve to be recognized with such a prestigious award. Another called her a “sellout” who sacrificed her country and principles for fame and glory.

One critic harshly described her as a “tool.” Many others complained that she’s only 17 and questioned whether she even qualifies for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Reading these comments was difficult, not just because they force us to confront the unpleasant side to human nature, but also because they exemplify a growing, disturbing trend of armchair critics who consider themselves qualified to belittle the well-deserved accomplishments of others.

The source for some of the bitterness can be understood. After all, nothing makes us as keen of our own shortcomings than seeing others accomplish great things. That they happen to accomplish them at such a young age — well, that’s just salt in the wound.

It’s difficult for some to digest that this young Pakistani girl, with her father’s help, rebelled against and arguably made more progress in dismantling the Taliban’s archaic, un-Islamic traditions than even the world’s most powerful military.

That should be reason to applaud — not begrudge — her.

But rather than chastise the Taliban’s unethical practices that have harmed the perception of Islam and Muslims worldwide, many accuse Yousafzai of being a willing accomplice in justifying what is often perceived to be the West’s war on Islam. They conveniently ignore that she was an innocent schoolgirl who’s passion for learning so threatened adult men that they attempted to murder her on a bus as she traveled to school.

Because she re-located to Great Britain with her family out of concern for her safety, Yousafzai is blamed for turning her back on her country. This, despite frequent affirmations that she refuses to allow threats from the Taliban or any group from dissuading her from one day returning to Pakistan after she completes her education.

Some Pakistanis argue that Yousafzai’s father is using her to advance “his own agendas.” If that agenda includes sending your daughter to school without being killed, well he too should be applauded. Frankly, he is a role model for other men in patriarchal societies that still hold women in low regard.

Others argue that the elder Yousafzai deserves the credit for his daughter’s success. Not she. After all, he manages her engagements and public affairs and ensures she attends United Nations meetings.

Aren’t parents often a major reason for their offsprings’ success? I know mine are. Ideally, all fathers should be so involved and vested in their daughters’ — and sons’ — futures. The fact that he provides guidance and support doesn’t diminish his daughter’s accomplishments; it only magnifies his own esteem.

Yousafzai’s father should be recognized for steadfastly paving the way for her to gain an education despite the challenges that stood in their way. More fathers should follow his example and encourage their daughters to be ambitious, set the bar high and never be afraid to fight for a just cause.

Some complain that because the father/daughter duo allegedly have political aspirations in Pakistan, they must be corrupt. S
eeing the deplorable track record of Pakistan’s elected officials, it’s not difficult to see why one might think anyone who aspires to public office in Pakistan must harbor ill intentions.

Who knows if that’s actually what their plans are, but at the very least, if these two come into power, Pakistan’s literacy rate is bound to increase. If they do have political aspirations though, then I hope they will leverage them to establish a legacy in Pakistan that would make its founder Jinnah proud.

Some of the more cringe-inducing conspiracy theorists hypothesize that Yousafzai must be spying for the CIA or Mossad. They clearly fail to see that the determination and confidence Yousafzai projects in striving towards her goals are influenced largely by her Islamic faith, which makes seeking and acquiring knowledge incumbent upon all Muslims — including women.

I don’t envy the Nobel Peace Prize selection committee the onerous task of having to consider and select recipients.

Let’s face it. For all the horrible people who do evil things in the world, there are many more compassionate, selfless and courageous folks who work tirelessly to improve the condition of humanity.

But I do feel pity for people who cannot find the grace and class within themselves to acknowledge that this young woman — who overcame overwhelming obstacles, stirred dormant consciences, launched a global movement, inspired millions worldwide and who through it all continues to smile and joke with self-deprecating humility — is deserving of such an honor.

Congratulations, Malala. Continue championing the cause for girls’ education and making (most of) Pakistan proud. May your conviction, courage, determination and bravery give rise to a thousand more like you.

Zainab Chaudry is the Maryland Outreach Manager of the Council on American Islamic Relations. CAIR is the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

Syrian Women Know How To Defeat ISIS

Women have been deeply involved in distributing and monitoring humanitarian aid in communities across Syria

To the Islamic State, Syrian women are slaves. To much of the rest of the world, they are victims.

It’s time we expose their real identity: an untapped resource for creating lasting peace. Listening to and implementing the ideas of women still living in Syria is key to weakening ISIS and stabilizing the region at large because, in many ways, they have a better track record laying the foundations for peace and democracy than any other group.

Over the last two years, we’ve worked side-by-side with Syrian women leaders as they propose concrete steps to end the war. Most recently, we brought several women representing large civil society networks to Washington, D.C., where they cautioned against the current approach of the international community – and proposed a very different blueprint for the region’s future.

More arms and more bombs, they said, are not the answer.

They insisted that the only way to fight this extremist threat is to return to the negotiating table and hash out a peaceful political transition to heal the divisions ripping Syria apart.

“Oppression is the incubator of terrorism,” one woman told us as the group prepped for meetings with high-level officials in D.C. and New York. Her participation in peaceful protests during the early days of the revolution led to her two-month imprisonment in a four square meter room shared with 30 other women—yet she was adamant: “We cannot fight ISIS except through a political approach.”

That women who’ve been hunted and tortured for their nonviolent activism still say “no more bombs” is remarkable. That their solutions are forward-looking and inclusive is unsurprising; we’ve seen similar approaches from women in conflicts all over the world. In Colombia, Northern Ireland, Uganda, and dozens of other places, women have been catalysts for sustainable, inclusive peace.

During three-plus years of war, Syrian women have consistently led efforts to end the violence and mitigate suffering. They’ve worked under the direst circumstances: dodging sniper bullets, evading arrest, surviving without adequate food or medicine. They’ve retained hope and determination in ways that most of us would find impossible.

That’s precisely why we must listen to them.

So what do they recommend? To create stability (which is kryptonite to extremists), Syrian women say three things must happen.

First, humanitarian aid must get to the millions in grave need. Almost three million people are registered as refugees in neighboring countries and over six million are displaced inside Syria. That’s in a country with a pre-war population of just under 18 million. Approximately half of the remaining inhabitants live in extreme poverty.

In response to this disaster, the UN made an urgent appeal for $2.28 billion just to meet the critical requirements of the internally displaced. So far, Member States have committed only $864 million—a little over one-third of the total. Last month, the UN was forced to cut the delivery of food aid by 40 percent.

Violent extremism thrives in areas where social services have all but disappeared. A woman who serves on the local council of an opposition-held town told us that she fears more of her neighbors may become radicalized because there’s no work, no education, and no other opportunities.

Women have been deeply involved in distributing and monitoring humanitarian aid in communities across Syria. Typically perceived as less of a threat, they’re able to smuggle supplies through checkpoints without being searched. This affords them first-hand witness of the different needs of zones under government, opposition, Islamic State, or other control. They’ve seen, for instance, that food baskets can’t get into areas blockaded by the regime; in these circumstances, cash transfers are more effective. To reach the greatest number of people, relief agencies should coordinate with civil society and devise humanitarian strategies that reflect these differences.

Second, international actors must encourage local pockets of stability. Beyond funding, a key barrier to humanitarian access is the ongoing violence. Besieged areas are the hardest to reach and most in need.

Here too, women have a solution. Though missing from most news reports, a number of local ceasefire arrangements have proliferated throughout the country, often negotiated by civil society actors. In the Damascus suburbs, a women’s group brokered a ceasefire between regime and opposition forces. For 40 days before fighting resumed, they were able to get essential supplies into the city.

Syrian women are now calling on the UN to not only track these local arrangements, but assign international monitors to ensure parties stick to them. Beyond opening channels for the passage of humanitarian aid, this may also help the parties come closer to an agreement to cease hostilities on the national level. This will require accountability, as these negotiations are all too often used as a tool of political manipulation.

Which brings us to the third, and potentially most important, step: The parties must return to internationally-mediated negotiations and agree on a political solution to the conflict. The last round of talks in Geneva failed, it’s true. But this is still the best solution to the burgeoning civil war and the opportunistic extremism that has followed it. Only a unified Syria can beat back the ISIS threat.

Convincing both parties to come back to the table won’t be easy. But Syrian women have identified concrete ideas that could help unite disparate factions by encouraging them to cooperate on mutually beneficial activities. For instance, the regime and opposition could coordinate the safe passage of university students between government- and nongovernment-controlled areas to allow them to resume their studies. The women also call on parties to prioritize construction of temporary housing for those displaced by the conflict on both sides. These actions could help cultivate trust between the regime and opposition and encourage popular support on all sides for renewed negotiations.

As important is the construction of an inclusive peace process. One that engages women, but also others who have thus far been missing from the conversation: the Kurds, Druze, youth, independent civil society networks, tribal leaders, and, yes, more radical elements like Jabhat al-Nusra, who can otherwise spoil the talks from the outside. Without this, no agreement stands a chance.

These three priorities—humanitarian relief, support for local ceasefires, and resumption of negotiations—are not the result of idealistic or wishful thinking. This is not an abstract call by Syrian women to “give peace a chance.” It’s a plea for policy approaches that are grounded in the lived experiences and long-term goals of the vast majority of the Syrian people.

Regional and global stability depend on the international community getting this right. Luckily for us, Syrian women—and civil society more broadly—know exactly what it will take to rebuild their country and undermine the ambitions of the Islamic State. Will we listen?

Kristin Williams is Senior Writer and Program Officer at The Institute for Inclusive Security, where she calls attention to the most powerful, untapped resource for peace: women.

Michelle Barsa is Senior Manager for Policy at Inclusive Security Action, where she focuses on expanding the role for women in peace and security processes, particularly in Afghanistan and Syria.

This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Pot Is the New Normal

Demand for marijuana edibles is pushing several Colorado manufacturers to expand their facilities or move to larger quarters.
Steve Herin, Master Grower at Incredibles, works on repotting marijuana plants in the grow facility on Wednesday, August 13, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Kent Nishimura—Denver Post via Getty Images

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Face it: marijuana is legal, crime is down, traffic fatalities are declining and fewer teens are lighting up

If you want to know just how crazy marijuana makes some people, look no further than the race for governor of Colorado, where Democratic incumbent John Hickenlooper is neck and neck with Republican challenger Bob Beauprez. They’re high-profile examples of a growing backlash against pot, even as none of the scare stories about legal weed are coming true. Drug-addled addicts embarking on crime sprees? Not in Denver. Stupefied teens flunking tests in record numbers? Uh-uh. Highway fatalities soaring? Nope.

About the worst you can say so far is that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wigged out while high. But she does that from time to time when she’s sober as a judge too.

Neither Hickenlooper nor Beauprez has cracked 50% with voters, which makes sense since neither candidate can stomach the fact that 55% of Coloradans voted to legalize recreational pot in 2012. “I’ll say it was reckless” to legalize pot, averred Hickenlooper at a recent debate. Beauprez goes further still. When asked if it’s time to recriminalize marijuana, he said, “Yes, I think we’re at that point … where the consequences that we’ve already discovered from this may be far greater than the liberty … citizens thought they were embracing.”

In fact, sales and tax revenues from legal pot continue to climb, and more people now buy recreational pot than medical marijuana, even though the former is taxed at much higher rates. Pot has kicked about $45 million into tax coffers since it became legal this year and is projected to come in between $60 million and $70 million by year’s end. Murders in the Denver area, where most pot sales take place, are down 42% (so is violent crime overall, though at a lower rate) and property crime is down 11.5%.

There’s more bad news for alarmists: Pot use by teenagers in Colorado declined from 2001, when the state legalized medical marijuana, to 2013, the last full year for which data are available. When medical marijuana was introduced, critics worried that any form of legalized pot would increase usage among kids, but the reverse happened. It remains to be seen if that trend continues in the face of legal recreational pot, but Colorado teens already use dope at lower rates than the national average. So much for the Rocky Mountain High state.

Yet Colorado pols are in good company in harshing on legal weed. The recovering addict and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy heads Safe Alternatives to Marijuana (SAM) and categorically argues, “we cannot promote a comprehensive system of mental-health treatment and marijuana legalization.”

Researchers who find that regular marijuana use among teenagers correlates with mental problems, academic failure and other bad outcomes get plenty of ink, even though such studies fail to show causation. Underperforming students and kids with problems abuse alcohol and smoke cigarettes at higher rates, after all. In any case, even advocates of legalization argue that teens shouldn’t be smoking pot any more than they should be drinking. Given the drug’s pariah status for decades, it’s not surprising that the science is both unsettled and highly politicized.

Will legalizing pot increase access to a drug that law-enforcement officials concede has long been readily available to high schoolers? “Criminalizing cannabis for adults has little if any impact on reducing teens’ access or consumption of the plant,” argues the pro-legalization group NORML, a claim supported by declining teen use during Colorado’s experience with medical marijuana. Certainly pot merchants who are registered with and regulated by the state are more likely to check IDs than your friendly neighborhood black-market dealer.

At least this much seems certain: In a world where adults can openly buy real pot, you’re also less likely to read stories headlined “More People Hospitalized by Bad Batch of Synthetic Marijuana.” And support for legalization isn’t fading. The market-research firm Civic Science finds that 58% of Americans support laws that “would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana like alcohol.”

That figure obviously doesn’t include either candidate for governor of Colorado. But just like the rest of the country, whoever wins that race will have to learn to live with pot being legal, crime being down, traffic fatalities declining and fewer teens lighting up.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

More of America’s Foreign College Students Should Come From Mexico

Graduates throwing caps in air
Getty Images

Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column.

Even though it is our neighbor, our second-largest trading partner, and home to almost 120 million people

My Mexican father applied to colleges in the United States in the late 1940s, and was offered scholarships by the University of Arizona and Western Reserve (now Case Western Reserve) in Cleveland. His father sat him down and drew a line from west to east across a map of the United States and said: “Below this line, they don’t like Mexicans.” It was a fateful moment, all but ensuring Dad would return to Mexico upon graduation. He did not like the cold. He would have loved Tucson.

Dad did enjoy his studies in Cleveland, and got a lot out of the experience, notwithstanding his nearly flunking music composition (not long ago I stumbled across a copy of his transcript). His was a classic liberal arts education, blending economics, history, and literature. Upon graduation, he returned to Mexico, got a job, and enrolled in an evening law school. He went on to have a successful business career, much of which involved connecting Mexico to the United States and (though not as a conscious matter) spreading American values to those who worked with him.

A fascinating new Brookings report on the foreign student population of the United States made me think of Dad’s experience, and what he and the United States got out of the deal. As Neil G. Ruiz, the author of the report, put it over the phone, migrant students build bridges between societies, and over time those bridges carry a lot of economic activity. This means that the United States is, in many cases, educating the future leaders of the world, particularly the future leaders of emerging nations. We currently take in about a fifth of all students worldwide who cross borders to study, though these students still make up less than 4 percent of the entire student population in the U.S.

Ruiz and his team looked not only at countries of origin for the 1,153,459 foreign students enrolled in higher education programs between 2008 and 2012, but their cities of origin and the metropolitan areas they cluster in within the U.S. So, for instance, the data compiled by Brookings shows there were 7,109 students (F-1 visa holders) from Seoul studying in the Los Angeles area during that four-year period. Looking into the future, it’s hard to imagine a more binding tie between the two cities than the presence of all those Korean students in Los Angeles, and their connection to the city long after they graduate.

It isn’t surprising that Asia dominates the census of foreign students in the United States, although I was stunned by just how much. China alone sent 284,173 students in that period. The top 20 hometowns of all foreign students in the United States are in Asia. Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states boast the fastest-growing contingent of students. Shockingly, the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, alone sent more students (17,361) than did the entire country of Mexico (17,171).

Mexico, ranked ninth among countries sending students here, is vastly underrepresented among foreign students when you consider that it is our neighbor, our second-largest trading partner, and home to almost 120 million people. The fact that the country lags behind cities like Riyadh and Taipei in the numbers of students it sends to American universities shows that Mexico and the United States remain “distant neighbors” in some ways, as Alan Riding termed the relationship in his book of that title three decades ago.

It also shows that money talks. In addition to having many families able to pay the high cost of tuition abroad, countries like China and Saudi Arabia offer lavish scholarships to promising kids. The U.S. has a strategic need to attract more students from Mexico and other countries who don’t have this kind of financial backing. But American universities prefer to see foreign students as a profit center. Texas has long been a welcome exception to the rule, offering Mexican nationals with financial need in-state tuition at public universities as a matter of policy. Meanwhile, the Obama administration and its Mexican counterpart have announced initiatives to increase the flow of students across the border to 100,000 in coming years, but the question of who pays for all those students remains an open one.

Our policy discussions about foreign students in this country also disproportionately focus on students focusing on science and technology. Lawmakers, analysts, and businesses are all advocating the creation of an easier path for those pursuing advanced STEM degrees to stay and work here once they obtain their degrees. There is widespread support, echoed by the Brookings report, for a law that would automatically grant these graduates a green card.

That makes a great deal of sense, but we shouldn’t take too utilitarian a view of foreign students in this country, writing off those incapable of writing code or finding their way around a lab. Yes, we want to be the world’s innovation hub, attracting the best and brightest to our great research universities. But we also benefit from having students come here from all over the world to learn our history, as well as our democratic and capitalist values.

And that’s true even—maybe especially so—if they go back home because it was too cold in Cleveland.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

The Unusual Way Students in China Can Earn Extra Cash

Chinese couple running together
Chinese couple running together Jade—Getty Images/Blend Images

A run for the money

Need some motivation to exercise? In China you can now hire a “running mate” – a fit stranger to run with you and help with inspiration.

Instead of a personal trainer, these running partners aren’t professionals. Most of them are students, and they’re simply meant to provide a “little old-fashioned encouragement,” according to the Global Times.

Chen Li, one of the running partners, told the Global Times that some people hire him for safety reasons at night, but others just need help shedding a few pounds. “Mr. Zhang was my first client and he hoped someone could push him to exercise because he is getting fat from long office hours,” Li said.

Running partners reportedly make up to 3,000 yuan ($490) a month from the gig.

TIME Culture

Tear Gas and the Betrayal of Hong Kong

Protestors Continue To Resist As Police Attempt To Clear Protest Sites
On October 16, 2014 in Hong Kong, pro-democracy protesters continue to call for open elections and the resignation of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Alexander Koerner—Getty Images

Protesters in our city used to have a trusting relationship with the police, but these latest protests reveal a growing chasm

On Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, we stood among the estimated 80,000 Hong Kong protestors in the Admiralty neighborhood that hosts the government headquarters when tear gas began raining down on us. The effects were immediate: a searing and near-paralyzing burn of our skin, eyes, nasal passages, and lungs that intensified with each attack, which totaled 87 rounds and an unknown number of canisters in nine different locations that night. Discomfort lasted for days afterward.

We are American expatriates who have lived in Hong Kong for years studying policy challenges facing transitional societies, but don’t normally consider ourselves activists. We were out there because we have seen a disturbing erosion in the political freedoms and rights promised to our city since the 1997 handover to China, when it was agreed that Hong Kong would operate under “one country, two systems” for 50 years until 2047. Concern bubbled to the surface in 2003, when the Hong Kong government proposed security legislation that gave it the power to quash “subversion” defined broadly to including legitimate dissidence and free speech. A 2012 effort to introduce national education reform promoting controversial “Chinese patriotism lessons” heightened concern. Both proposals were shelved after massive public protests, which were legal. Now, despite allowing everyone to vote for the Chief Executive in 2017, Beijing has established an ideological litmus test (candidates must “love the country”) and raised the requirements for becoming a candidate such that it effectively allows the Chinese Communist Party to choose the winner. In addition, fears were further raised by the language and timing of a June 2014 “white paper” that made it clear Hong Kong enjoys its autonomy entirely at the Chinese Communist Party’s discretion, sparking this movement that has gone beyond legal protests into occupying roads and other forms of civil disobedience.

Moreover, we were in the streets to acknowledge the growing discontent among Hong Kong residents over a widening economic disparity and the government’s role in creating it. In a city of millionaires and billionaires, where many well-off Mainland visitors happily spend their wealth, one-fifth of Hong Kong’s population currently lives below the poverty line (equivalent to $461 a month). Small business owners and entrepreneurs are finding it increasingly difficult to pay the escalating rent. The uneven distribution of wealth has only been exacerbated by Beijing’s strategy of allowing a few friendly tycoons’ businesses to grow exponentially, thereby consolidating power in a manageable number of “leaders” and stabilizing the political environment.

Our friends and family have been split about whether these protests are the right approach. Those who oppose the protest tend to view the relationship between China and Hong Kong as one of parent and child, do not see real threats to Hong Kong’s autonomy, and focus on the short-term view that Beijing will never give Hong Kong genuine universal suffrage when other parts of China don’t have it. But we reject the parent-child analogy of politics, and hold a longer view that is corroborated by history: citizen protests, even ones that fail, are often necessary for societies to take incremental steps towards more equal and accountable states. We all share a baseline concern for the instability and economic distress brought about by protests, but we differ in choosing to weather the storm or to try to oppose the government directly.

We chose the more direct approach, which is how we ended up with the surreal experience of getting tear-gassed for the first time. Hong Kong protesters have long played by the rules—seeking advanced approval for polite, organized marches. And the police have long enjoyed not only a sterling international reputation for their restraint when controlling crowds, but also a tight-knit and trusting relationship with the people. So we in Hong Kong have relegated tear gas in our collective consciousness to Hollywood or war zones, not thinking it would be possible in one of the safest and most orderly cities in the world.

Until it was. While we got away with minimal injuries, we saw plenty of people who were doubled over in pain on the street crying as others washed out their eyes, or gasping for air. The protestors’ attempts to shield themselves with umbrellas have given rise to the nickname of this protest as the “Umbrella Movement.” Beyond its health effects, the tear gas helped us recognize the chasm that had been growing between the Hong Kong government and its people.

Beneath the shimmering skyscrapers, Hong Kong has prided itself on the rule of law and self-restraint when it comes to using the overwhelming force it possesses. This illusion was destroyed when the police crossed the line into violence: resorting to pepper spray, batons, and tear gas against peaceful protesters. It was further aggravated by an element of unchecked thuggery – organized bands, many with suspected triad connections, attacked protesters in the city’s Mong Kok area on Oct. 3 and 4. The police largely stood by while this happened, in contrast to their earlier willingness to use force against peaceful protestors. Hong Kong residents realized that they had mistaken the orderliness and proceduralism of the Hong Kong government for benevolence.

The way in which the police carried out tear gas attacks on Sept. 28 is even more worrisome. In both Admiralty and Central districts, we saw police hurl gas canisters haphazardly, often into unsuspecting crowds, letting the toxins disperse in the air, attacking without regard to subject or intent. In an ensuing press conference, the police officially justified their decision in the name of public safety, saying they launched the tear gas to prevent stampedes and restore order. From what we have seen in our studies, however, gassing usually causes chaotic stampedes and injury. The only reason there were not massive injuries was the surprising levelheadedness of the protesters. With each attack, the protesters walked calmly away; the uninjured ones then returned under the instruction of organizers once the gas had dissipated. The police have reiterated their justifications. The public response was telling: citizen participation in the protest surged after the tear gas and reports of thuggery.

Tear gas and other forms of violence are, of course, used by police to quell protests all over the world, and some commentators have been correct to point out that the police response could have been much more brutal elsewhere. However, these protests have typically been more peaceful and orderly than elsewhere—we witnessed protesters cleaning the streets in between rounds of tear gas, and when we saw some people throwing water bottles at the riot police, other protesters quickly admonished them. This rarity that has caught the attention of the international community, and the violence happened in a place where the police don’t typically react this way. So the situation felt like a betrayal. The time the decision was made to launch the first canister of tear gas was the moment the trust between state and citizen, and especially between the Hong Kong police and people, was lamentably lost. Whether that trust can be regained is entirely up to the government.

The actions of the administration during this protest do not bode well for the civility of future Hong Kong protests. And indeed, after a brief lull, the situation has escalated perhaps inevitably: in the early morning of Oct. 15 police took action to clear protesters from a road with batons and pepper spray, but also attacked human rights observers wearing identification. And, a video has surfaced of police allegedly beating a handcuffed protestor whom they suspected of throwing water at them. The Hong Kong protesters have shown enormous self-discipline in adhering to the principle of non-violence thus far, but that may not last forever.

It’s highly likely the Umbrella Movement protestors took note of Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement in March to April of this year when students rose to combat a rushed trade agreement with China, fearing that economic dependence would eventually become a political crutch as well. There, too, students went from largely legal protests to occupying the legislature for several weeks. There, too, the police responded with violence (water cannons and batons). There, too, the students remained organized, peaceful, self-governing, and highly considerate. (For example, they designated smoking quotas so as to not discomfort non-smokers and they cleaned the legislative building when they finally left.) To end the protests, the government promised to initiate a review of the trade agreement and to implement greater legislative transparency, which are still being negotiated. We can only hope—though we acknowledge it is sadly unlikely—that Hong Kong’s protests get resolved in a similar way.

Taiwan is, of course, a democratic system that is more accountable to the population, while the Hong Kong government is under no such constraint. Indeed, that is the existential issue behind the protests, and certainly not one that can be resolved with tear gas.

Bon Cheng, M.D., is a senior health policy analyst at the Hong Kong-based Panopticon Foundation, a nonprofit institute that supports the study of societies transitioning to new forms of economic, political, and social organization.

Yvonne Chiu, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at the University of Hong Kong and the director of the Panopticon Foundation.

Bon Cheng and Yvonne Chiu wrote this piece for Zocalo Public Square, a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

Misogynist Online Abuse Is Everyone’s Problem — Men Included

The harassment against feminist #Gamergate critics is getting attention now. But the toxicity goes much farther in our culture.

I wasn’t going to write about #Gamergate. Most of the video gaming world is outside my experience. I used to play more, when I had more time and hair, but now I only play a few tablet or iPhone games, and badly. (I get a 384 on Threes, it’s basically a national holiday.) Not my issue, I figured.

Weeks went on, and I kept seeing references to a culture war between gamers and gaming journalists, especially feminist critics of the industry, that had devolved into vile sexist harassment and death and rape threats. So I started reading, and to an outsider anyway, Gamergate led to a vast tangle of ancient grievances and offenses that seemed about as easy to unravel as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (For those interested, Todd Van Der Werff’s explainer at Vox is one of the better I’ve read.) That sounds awful, I thought. But again, not my area. Not my problem.

And then I read this terrific column by the Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan that made me realize that it is totally my problem, and everyone’s. The abuse that female game critics and journalists and developers have been receiving has been extreme–specific threats to friends and family online, bomb threats, people hoping to drive women to suicide, the threat of a mass shooting at a talk video game critic Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to give. But it’s not unparalleled.

In TV criticism–in any cultural criticism now–the price of having a female byline and an opinion is getting subjected to torrents of gender-specific, grotesque, sometimes frightening and threatening abuse, which men like me, in general, do not deal with to nearly the same degree. I panned CBS’s Stalker. Mo Ryan panned CBS’s Stalker. But only she received the e-mail, quoted in her column, that told her to “shut the fuck up” because “MEN WE PREVAIL.” (Disclosure, I guess: I’m friendly with Ryan, as I am with a lot of TV critics, and I will confess to being biased against someone calling a friend a “fucking misandry freak.”)

And what’s the offense here, in each case? What were the fighting words? Somebody made some videos criticizing gaming tropes as sexist. Someone said that a TV crime show was exploitative and abhorrent. Someone said, maybe don’t harass women in the video game industry. This is the threat. This is the crisis.

It’s the “War on Christmas,” essentially. (There’s an excellent piece in Deadspin drawing out the parallels between the political and the entertainment-industry culture wars.) It’s the grievance of an identity group, already superserved by the larger culture, outraged that its service has become slightly less super. Their thing used to be the main thing, the default thing, the assumption. And now, if you point out that it is no longer the only thing–as is the case, both in American society and in entertainment–why, you’re persecuting them.

I have to assume that the people making death and bomb threats are, as the saying goes, a “small but vocal minority.” But this sense of disproportionate grievance is not so small. Put simply: someone saying mean things about a thing you like is not an assault on your liberties.

So someone made you feel bad for playing a video game that you like? I’m sorry. Maybe there are valid arguments against them. Maybe you could make those arguments! But nobody is about to haul you off to the Misandrist Re-Education Camps because they caught you playing Assassin’s Creed.

Someone got all righteous about the TV shows you like? Maybe they asked why there aren’t more well-rounded women in True Detective or why there are so many dramas about brooding male antiheroes and serial killers or they said something was a rape scene that you didn’t think was a rape scene? That’s unfortunate. But guess what? HBO’s still making the second season of True Detective! Networks are still going to make all those antihero and serial killer shows! You’re still going to be on the receiving end of a multi-billion-dollar pipeline full of product tailored to your specific tastes. I think you’ll be OK!

But as a larger group, we have a problem–all of us. It’s women, online and in real life, who have to deal with the fear and the abuse and the is-it-worth-it-to-say-this, in far greater numbers. People tweet horrible things at me sometimes, but I don’t pretend writing a post like this is any kind of brave act on my part. I’ll publish it and go on my merry way. I have the Guy Shield, or maybe the Dude Invisibility Cloak. (It’s +3 against trolls!)

It’s still my problem, though. There’s a whole genre of men saying that they’ve become feminist because they have daughters. I don’t; I have two sons. Which is exactly why this kind of toxic crap in the culture is my problem, because they play games and they live in the world, and I want them to grow up to be decent guys with healthy human relationships. I don’t want them immersed in a mindset that says that throwing anonymous abuse at women is somehow retaliation in kind.

It’s my problem because I may not be a big gamer, but no part of the culture is an island. The dudebro attitude is manifest in TV comments sections and movie discussions and literary arguments–the puffing out of chests, the casual gendered insults–and it’s stifling, and it’s depressing, and it makes too many people decide it’s not worth engaging anymore.

It’s my problem because I love ideas and innovative culture and smart conversation. And every time a woman decides she needs to cancel a speech, or decides it’s not worth the risk to keep working in the creative field she loves, or decides, you know what, not today, it’s just not worth it to publish this column on this subject–it costs me and everyone else (even if it costs the women affected much more). It’s my problem if anyone’s engaging in a concerted effort to shut someone up, because I’m a writer and I’m a person and I live in a society.

This toxicity that we’re stewing in may not be All Men or All Gamers or All Anyone. That’s obvious. And it’s besides the point. What matters is that it’s all our problem.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser