Daring to Dream: Coming from Conservative Cultures

Girls, when was the last time you dreamed for a life bigger than yourselves? Seriously, think about it. Go down memory lane and try to recall. For those of you who come from disenfranchised and/or conservative societies & cultures, when was the last time you dreamed for a life bigger than yourselves? How did you feel? Were you inspired? Did you feel present? Did you feel true to yourself? 

Challenges of Coming from a Conservative and Disenfranchised Society

Many cultures come with a lot of layers. It’s a lot to deal with. As an Indian American woman, I know from personal experience. Layers include:

  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Need for financial stability
  • Community based societies
  • Intergenerational trauma
  • Insular attitudes

These conditions are often exacerbated for women and girls. Conservative societies and cultures come with their own sets of rules on gender roles and codes of conduct, which often include high pressure on women to get married and have kids. Women and girls who attempt to go against cultural norms are often met with shame, outrage, and judgement. 

Conservative societies and cultures often place a huge influence on marriage and dating restrictions. There was a woman, a friend of my mom’s, who has been insistent to my mom about getting me married, even though she and I have never once met! A lot of the time parents already feel concerned about their daughters deviating from cultural norms. On top of that, they often have to deal with other family and friends’ opinions and commentary about what they should do with their daughters. How do we address societies that want to dictate what’s best for women and girls?

Using Culture as Your Strength and Finding Examples of Inspiration

WE HAVE TO BE HONEST WITH OURSELVES! Some actions that help include but are not limited to:

  • Journaling about how we feel and what we think, seeing our thoughts on paper gives such perspective
  • Therapy is often overlooked in communities of color and other conversative societies. According to the article The Conversation We Need to Have About Mental Health and Women of Color on The Everygirl, “African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population, but less likely to seek treatment.” Based on The New Republic Article The Silence About Mental Health in South Asian Culture Is Dangerous, admitting mental health issues in South Asian culture can mean bringing shame to one’s family. We need to challenge these stigmas against therapy.
  • If there is any type of abuse involved (especially, if you feel your life is being put in danger), please call a hotline and start creating a safety plan to leave as soon as possible.

The whole point of these actions is to provide a clean slate, so you can create something new. We can have our energies directed at only so many things. When we begin to heal, we can shift our energy towards the things that light up our hearts. We can create more space to dream and do awesome stuff with great intention. 

How do we use our cultures and ethnicities as our strengths? One thing I recommend doing is to look for examples of inspiring women from your cultures and/or communities, even if you feel there aren’t many of them. I find that this quote, “What we consume and see in the media shapes our beliefs and ideas of what is ‘normal’ or accepted. When you don’t see yourself, the message is clear. You don’t belong,” rings so true for me. Remember, your role models don’t have to be famous. Women I look up to include my aunt who is following her passion as a beautician and my friend who has her own life coaching business. I also look up to public figures such as Deepica Mutyala, Nina Davuluri, Jameela Jamil, Seema Hari, and Lilly Singh.

Nina Davuluri
Deepica Mutyala

It’s easier to see ourselves excel when we see representation of people who look like us doing amazing things. There was a woman whose wedding I attended a few months ago, and even though I don’t personally know her too well, she inspired me. First of all, her wedding was so opulent and I felt like I was in another world. And she married the man of her dreams, not anybody else’s. When I heard her speak so confidently at her reception and learned she is living her dream as a chef, I was spellbound. I hope to one day embody that level of confidence.

Lilly Singh

Another place I find inspiration is in my spiritual community. These spiritual sisters are beacons of light who are not afraid to address how the structure of religion and culture harms girls and women. They are doing an amazing job of living lives that truly speak to them, even if they feel they have so much more to do. We guide each other and empathize with one another. I often look at their assets and what helped them be a force to be reckoned with. This can provide great guidance, especially if you don’t know where to get started. 

Jameela Jamil
Seema Hari

How Freeing Is It To Dream For a Big Life

It’s just so freeing to dream and strive for a life bigger than ourselves, larger than our wildest dreams. Just dreaming alone is so powerful. We direct our focus to something bigger. All of the concerns, hard-headedness, opinions are in a way confronted or even threatened. Your mind is going to try to keep you in that same old place, but you know what that old space will result in. When you look towards a life bigger than yourself, all of those concerns are meant to disintegrate. The focus is not on us, but what we can contribute to the world. 

It’s time we consider something else rather than what we grew up with or what we know. It’s high time we allow ourselves to dream again. We get to do what children do ALL the time…..dreaming and tapping into their imaginations. Instead of operating out of fear, we operate out of love. From my own experience, life blossoms sooner that way. It may be uncomfortable or scary, because we are putting years of pain, struggle, and commentary behind and starting new. I know that’s definitely the case for me, but it leads to great things. Trust me.

Learn more:

The Importance of Representation Reflecting Reality

RAINN: Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and Their Loved Ones

Get Help: The National Domestic Violence Hotline

Crisis Textline: Emotional Abuse

Resources for Women of Color:

“Am I Being Abused?” by Sakhi for South Asian Women

Why Black Women Are Silent About Domestic Violence

The Conversation We Need to Have About Mental Health and Women of Color

The Silence About Mental Health in South Asian Culture is Dangerous

Online Therapy Services:



7 Cups

Roshni Chiluka is a 25-year-old South Asian American woman who loves to write thought-provoking, compelling and inspiring content. She resonates with Soroptimist’s mission to provide women and girls the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential and live a life of success. She is happy to be a writer for LiveYourDream.org and looks forward to contributing to the organization to help more women and girls live their dreams! 

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