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Relational Cultural Theory

     Relational cultural theory (RCT) emanates from the work of Jean Baker Miller and is integrated into the feminist and multicultural movements in psychology. The theory embraces aspects of social injustices from these movements with a significant focus on relationships. The RCT theorists argue that relationships are the healing mechanism in psychotherapy as well as indicators for mental health and wellness (Robb, 2006). The theory is primarily focused on women and their relational experiences; like the experiences narrated by Somaly Mam (2009). On the other hand, Paolo Freire (2000) presents the methods and principles of teaching that an individual should cultivate relationships based on daily life situations that provide useful learning experiences. This essay is aimed at integrating the concepts of relationship or alliance from the works of relational cultural theorists based on Somaly Mam's and Paolo Freire's works.

According to relational cultural theorists, inequality is social and personal view, and for this case; men belong to the dominant group while women belong to subordinate group. Interestingly, both men and women experience, psychologically, the sense of inequality. This is in line with Frère's position that both the oppressor and the oppressed are dehumanized. For this case, the oppressed women should establish their own center independent man, and derive their own power through connection with other women and people of good will. Miller highlights, in his book, the fact that social strength in women is so weak that it robs them an opportunity to attain full empowerment.

As per Miller's Relational cultural theory, women should not ignore other women when they fit into the world of men. This is the call that Mam harkens to when she goes back to the brothels of Cambodia to liberate sex slaves and embank on exposing the moral underbelly behind commercial sex industry. By writing about her experiences as a microcosmic picture of the experiences of a million girls, Mam is seeking for real progress highlighted by Miller. The theory is clear that women should not become like men, but the society should seek humanization and allow integration of women's strength on a larger scale . In support of this, Freire argued that the oppressed are not liberated by oppressing their former oppressors. Since both the oppressor and the oppressed are dehumanized, any reversal situation will not solve the problem.

In her work, Mam recounts her childhood years when she endured horrific physical and sexual violence in the hands of her supposed grandfather and modern-day slave owners. The book narrates her experiences as a brothel worker in the commercial sex industry until she married a French man. Together with her Frenchman, Mam moved to France where she learned French and gained work experience. Mam state that the situation in Cambodia has become worse and the brothels have grown larger and more violent. We find women chained to sewers. Girls come to us beaten half to death. They are so young. Increasingly we see that the meebons have addicted them to drugs so they won't even try to escape. They have marks that are worse than anything I have ever endured. (p.166) Mam is aware that she may not change the world, but at least she can do something. The relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor is brutal and violent (Mam, 2009). Women experiences and their relation to men, who terrorize and expedite violence and sexual exploitation, are signs of dehumanization (Freire, 2000). This relationship inheres in both those who are dehumanized and those who dehumanizing and thus distorting the process of both becoming humane (Freire, 2000). Freire has it that oppressor's consciousness transforms everything around it to an object of dominion, including other human beings. This may be seen in the case of Mam, where the dominant males, like his supposed grandfather sold her to slavery and later to commercial sex industry; as he would sell a goat or some other object of value.

In addition, the sex industry is established to satiate the pleasures of men. Men and women, in this case, are in dominant versus dominated relationship. Freire (2000), analyses that this materialistic culture is anchored on the belief that life is about possessing, and to be in the class that possesses. The relational cultural fact about the oppressed versus the oppressor is examined by Freire in that although oppression dehumanizes both parties, the oppressed must lead the liberation of both parties.

However, he warns that when the oppressed seek to regain their humanity from their oppressors, they should not dehumanize the oppressors; but rather seek to restore humanity to both (Freire, 2000). This is probably where he may lock horns with the writings of Mam, who has done the oppressor a lot of dehumanization by describing the events of her experiences and that of others in an exaggerated manner. Miller (1986), argued that this exaggeration marks a period of dispelling falsities, which brings forward the experiences of the oppressed to the oppressor and to the rest of the world. However, in doing so, the experiences of the dominant group are obscured and downgraded. Therefore, liberation cannot be achieved if the oppressed becomes the oppressor, but can be achieved by creating a new world of human beings who are all involved in the process of liberation (Miller, 1986).

According to Freire, the process of alliance is not informed by a person or a messiah. Unlike in the style of Mam, who comes out to call for the banning of modern-day slavery through exposition of violence, brutal acts and emotive campaigns, Freire stands with the fact that the union will be achieved if the oppressed and the oppressor realize that liberation will benefit both sides. This liberation should involve interaction so that the two discover a world instead of adopting it. Throughout her book, Mam adopts a brutal voice that gives the reader her opinion of the oppressor. Under this perspective of distrust for the oppressor, humility and constant dialogue cannot be established. This, therefore, hinders the relationship that should be established between the oppressor and the oppressed.


Freire's work seems to come after Mam's work in addressing the relational culture theory in that he wants an individual to create himself rather than being created. Mam's work, on the other hand, seeks to display the violent and oppressive relation that men and women have in the modern-day slavery and how this relation gives birth to lifelong painful experiences in women. While Freire believed that the education of the oppressor should not be adopted by the oppressed, Mam's work is enough evidence that the oppressed can use the structures the oppressor establishes to liberate himself or herself

According to relational cultural theory, discussed by Miller, an oppressed person like a woman will do a noble act by attempting to liberate others whenever she fits into the position of the oppressors. This cannot be achieved unless the oppressed raises to the standards of the oppressor through established structures like education. This way, Freire is at odds with the relational culture theory. Both Freire and Mam agree in their works that at least the oppressed has to come out and bring about his or liberation together with that of others in the group. For the oppressive and violent relation to be at equilibrium, the oppressor and the oppressed should establish a new world where they embrace one another.

Copyright (c) 2012 Morgan D

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Posted on 2012-12-15, By: *

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