The Voices of Animal Resistance
Updated: Feb 5
“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” - Arundhati Roy
Animals speak, but their voices have been silenced and unacknowledged by humans much of the time. By recognizing animals’ voices, we counter the long tradition of Western European science and colonization denying animals’ subjectivity and agency.
To genuinely listen to animals’ voices requires being mindful of (and trying to dissolve) the asymmetrical power structures in animal-human relationships. Despite their diversity, multiplicity, and complexity, nonhuman animals have been largely represented in the dominant discourse as ahistorical, monolithic, and unable to affect their surroundings. Undoing the damage requires decentering the human: being cautious to avoid positioning ourselves as a primary referent from which to measure other animals who have their own histories, cultures, and communities.
In the animal advocacy movement, it is common to come across the terminology of speaking for “voiceless” animals and being “the voice for the voiceless”—language that usually stems from a feeling of ethical obligation to speak for those whose lives and suffering within vast structures of oppression are widely unheard and ignored. However, if we continue to refer to nonhuman animals as (literally or symbolically) voiceless, we may pass over meaningful opportunities to dialog and act in solidarity with them. As Lauren Corman explains, in Western European society there is a long history of referring to animals as “voiceless,” “mute,” and “speechless” in ways that preclude their agency. Rather, by recognizing animals’ embodied and political voices, we acknowledge their subjectivity and remain open to the possibility of their participation in and impact on social and political realms.
Recognizing that animals have voices has several important outcomes. First, this recognition acknowledges that animals are subjects with a unique conscious experience. They have their own desires, feelings, and preferences, which are conveyed through their voices and reflect their individuality. Second, this recognition is required if we are to hear what animals are saying. To develop meaningful communication and the possibility of nonhierarchical relationships with other species requires carefully listening to their voices. Third, this recognition highlights the diversity of discourses belonging to the vast and varied animal species on this planet. Animals’ unique and complex forms of communication challenge human exceptionalism (and the human species’ self-positioning as a universal gauge to measure intelligence). Finally, this recognition counters the widespread denial of animals’ agency. Since voice is equated with self-assertion, to recognize animals’ (symbolic or literal) voices, acknowledges their agency. Instead of positioning human animal advocates as the defenders of voiceless animals, we can identify as allies of animals, whose role is to amplify and elevate their voices by exhorting others to make the effort to listen, hear, and understand what it is they’re saying.
Listening to animals’ voices is the first step towards replacing savior narratives with solidarity. Chandra Talpade Mohanty defines feminist solidarity as a “principled way to cross borders” that requires the practice of “mutuality, accountability, and the recognition of common interests as the basis for relationships among diverse communities.” This notion of feminist solidarity is helpful when thinking about solidarity with nonhuman animals. Building alliances in social justice struggles entails self-reflexivity (being aware of one’s positionality) by the privileged, while respecting diversity and difference and recognizing shared interests. Cultivating solidarity with other animals entails listening to their voices and attempting to speak in solidarity with them. Often, this speaking in solidarity with translates into speaking in solidarity for other animals because of our vastly different positions of power and ability to be heard. Speaking in solidarity with (or for) other animals helps counter the taken-for-granted normalcy of savior discourse. While the accuracy of animal representations can be questionable, partial, and contingent, to remain silent about the stories of those whose speech is ignored in human society would be to remain complicit in a culture of extreme violence and hypocrisy.
The diverse animal species on this planet are constantly communicating with each other and the world around them. Animals’ resistance insists that we listen to other animals’ voices, recognize them as fellow beings in the struggle for social justice, and respond as allies. Their disruptions to the system demonstrate the urgency that is needed in this unprecedented struggle. When monkeys unlatch locks and escape from laboratory cages, when pigs refuse to advance down the chute to the slaughterhouse, when cows fight back against those who steal their children, when salmon struggle and gasp for breath when pulled from the water, and when elephants attack those who have killed their family members or encroached on their lands, their actions speak loudly. When cows gather and moo to welcome new residents to animal sanctuaries, or chickens cluck and coo to comfort their newborn chicks, their voices are clear. Animals have been shoved into the margins by human spatial and ideological orderings, but they are also subjects of their own struggles, located at the center of their liberation movement.
Sans, “Arundhati Roy: The 2004 Sydney Peace Prize Lecture,” Real Voice, November 8, 2014,
Lauren Corman, “The Ventriloquist’s Burden: Animal Advocacy and the Problem of Speaking
for Others,” in Animal Subjects 2.0., ed. Jodey Castricano and Lauren Corman (Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2016), 473–512.
Chandra T. Mohanty, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 7.