Why do we need celebrities or heroes? We don’t; each and every vegan is an important activist within the vegan movement. Non-vegans don’t know trending vegans. The vegans they are exposed to are those in their own communities.
The crowning of the male—usually, but not always, the cis white male—as the spokesman, the incredible “fundraiser,” the prophetic activist, the irreplaceable “leader,” is antithetical to the activism of animal advocacy. There are many problems with this practice of hero worship, among them:
It reinforces the idea that important activism is the activism of singular individuals rather than collective activism or grassroots organizing (most of whom are led by women and non-binary activists).
The veneration of white cis maleness is tied into the construction of “humanness” in Western philosophy; thus it reinforces dualisms that are a part of a nonhuman animal oppressive framework.
Hero worship reinforces limited notions of who can be the “best” advocate for nonhuman animals resulting in a politics of “appearance,” so that vegans are expected to adhere to a very limited image of the “healthy vegan” and those who don’t for whatever reason are viewed as not good representatives of veganism. This results in an obsession with the “natural,” too and enables fat shaming, body shaming, and disease shaming.
Hero worship results in the belief that the “hero” is so important to the “movement” that unethical (“problematic”) behavior on their part should be tolerated. This results in campaigns against those who come forward and report the behavior, like sexual exploitation, that “tarnish” the hero’s image. Rather than holding the hero accountable, the people who reported the behavior are the ones who are ostracized, attacked, and often forced out of the movement.
Proportionally, if we look at the percentages, it is not possible for this many white cishet men leaders in the movement to be more talented than the pool form which the talent is drawn. Statistically, given the pool of qualified individuals in the animal rights movement, the majority of people holding any leadership positions would be women since 75 to 80 percent of activists have self-identified as women (See here and here for the studies on this figure). The only way to explain this disproportional role of white cis men in the leadership positions is that the movement is imitating the culture at large rather than respecting the skills of its own participants. Outside forces, such as the dominant media and funders who follow a “listen to and empower the white cis male, he’s the leader” playbook may contribute to the perpetuation of this model.
Do be aware that there are plenty of inspiring people to celebrate, support, learn about, and invite to speak in the movement.
You can learn more about the dangers of hero worship here and from this useful case study.