Gary Costanza, a men’s rights activist and self-described anti-feminist, protested male circumcision at Stony Brook University Hospital on Oct. 8, the most recent in a series of protests on university grounds.
Equivocating the practice to female genital mutilation, he believes that there is “no medical reason” for it and that it violates the human and constitutional rights of infants.
He has protested SBU events since 2014, including a presentation for the HeForShe campaign, a Panel Discussion on Sexual Assault Policies and a “Take Back the Night” rally, where alumnus Sarah Elizabeth Tubbs spoke of her lawsuit against the university for allegedly mishandling sexual assault accusations.
As the lone protestor carried signs, flyers and a GoPro camera while chanting “protect your baby” by the Academic Mall Fountain last month, six university police officers told him that he needed a “permit to be here.”
Campus policy requires non-university organizations to obtain a permit through the Office of Administration before assembling on university space. Political science professor Jeffrey Segal, however, commented that Costanza was “well within his constitutional rights to do what he was doing.”
Footage of Costanza’s encounter with the police was posted after The Statesman spoke to Segal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports infant male circumcision, having found that the procedure’s health benefits outweigh its risks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publicly affirmed it as “an important public health measure” for its significant role in reducing risks of acquiring HIV and some sexually transmitted infections (STIs), although it also recommends counseling parents on the risks and benefits of the procedure.
The World Health Organization found that undergoing the surgery at younger ages presents “a lower risk of complications, faster healing and a lower cost.” Other medical benefits of circumcision include lower risks of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and genital cancer, prevention of foreskin infections and phimosis and easier genital hygiene.
Female genital mutilation, unlike male circumcision, is often performed for non-medical reasons, in unsanitary environments and by medically untrained practitioners, who use instruments such as razor blades and broken glass without anesthesia.
Sometimes fatal, the practice is severely painful and associated with long-term health risks such as urethra damage, incontinence, PTSD, sexual dysfunction, HIV acquisition and perinatal mortality.
Costanza claims that circumcision results in the deaths of more than a hundred infants every year. However, the CDC studied 1.4 million circumcisions performed from 2001 to 2010, finding no deaths as a result of the procedure.
“I do think that the ethics and politics of male circumcision should be debated,” Dr. Amanda Kennedy, coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Curry College, wrote in an email. “I am wary of neonatal circumcision as a routine medical practice.”
Having studied the sociology of circumcision, she commented that the practice raises questions of informed consent and bodily autonomy.
“Its potential to protect against STIs is often overstated,” she added. Noting the rarity of phimosis and UTIs, and evoking their antibiotic treatments, she questioned the necessity of a “permanent bodily alteration.”
Kennedy, who has researched the anti-circumcision movement with which Costanza is associated, criticizes it as comprising “passionate and often sad men with a misguided focus.”
“I would worry that this issue might serve as recruitment into antifeminism and anti-woman ideology,” she said.
Costanza contributes to A Voice For Men (AVFM), a leading men’s rights activist website, which has organized annual conferences for hundreds of attendees. They hosted prolific speakers such as Dr. Warren Farrell, a former board member for the National Organization for Women’s New York City chapter.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes AVFM as a male supremacist hate group. Kennedy calls it a “misguided” group that “politicizes men by appealing to their sense of victimization” and misleadingly frames rights as a “zero-sum game.”
AVFM has promoted violence against women and published the personal information of feminists for protesting its events. “Should I be called to sit on a jury for a rape trial, I vow publicly to vote not guilty, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the charges are true,” Paul Elam, the website’s founder, wrote in 2010.
Widely regarded as a founder of the men’s rights movement, Farrell himself has avoided the term and distanced himself from misogynists in the movement, insisting to NPR that they compose a small minority of it.
Costanza acts officially as AVFM’s director of anti-circumcision activism and publishes the personal information of doctors and rabbis who perform circumcision on infants.
“I have to investigate that aspect of it,” Eric Olsen, assistant chief of police at SBU, said. “Nothing he’s done on campus poses a danger to campus safety, nothing we’ve observed of him.”