Is Simon Baron-Cohen the next Larry Summers?

A Professor of Developmental Psychopathology and Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University in England, Baron-Cohen seems an unlikely candidate to supplant Summers as feminist hate object du jour.

But in his researches into the roots of autism, Baron-Cohen has been forced to consider the possibility that men and women may have intrinsic intellectual differences. Uttering a similar sentiment, of course, is what got Summers in hot water.

Baron-Cohen’s research suggests that autism is the result having of two parents with similar genes for organizing information — he the Assortative Mating Theory. In doing his research, he came to the conclusion that men and women, as a rule, have different ways of thinking:

“The assortative mating theory connects with the field of sex differences — my other big area of interest,” he says in a long, must read interview on the subject. “I’ve been trying to understand the differences between males and females. It was interesting for me to discover that there’s been a sleight of hand, mostly in the States, such that the word ’sex’ has been replaced by the word ’gender.’

“This has happened in a very subtle way over the last century, so that in the States, nobody talks about sex differences; they talk about gender differences. Whenever you want to refer to somebody’s sex you refer to their gender. I call it a sleight of hand, because actually ’sex’ is the older word. Your sex is either male or female, and in biology your sex is defined by whether you have 2 X chromosomes or an X and Y chromosome. There’s been a subtle shift into talking about gender, to whitewash the word sex.

“Why has this happened? Presumably, because your sex is determined by your chromosomes. And in the States the ideology is that we shouldn’t be determined by anything; we should be able to be anything we choose. The blank slate. Gender refers to how you think of yourself: as masculine, or feminine, It’s much more subjective, and is commonly believed to be culturally constructed. Italian male gender behavior is expressed differently from English male gender behavior. This gives the impression that people’s gender behavior can change as they change culture, even if their biological sex is fixed.

“Talking about gender is therefore much more optimistic than talking about sex. It’s the rags to riches idea — you can become anything. But I’ve been very interested to go back to the original notion of sex, as a biological characteristic, and to ask if there are there any essential differences between males and females in the mind. And to understand that if there are psychological differences, what are the biological mechanisms that give rise to these? Are they genes, are they hormones?”