I submitted an eletter in response to Whiten et al.'s eletter in response to Agustín Fuentes' editorial in Science. Given the crickets in my inbox, Science probably won't publish it, so I'm publishing it here.
Submitted to Science June 22, 2021
Update: It was published on July 6 without any notice to me: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6544/769/tab-e-letters
Whiten et al. described Fuentes’ editorial as a “distorting treatment” of Darwin’s writing in Descent of Man.
As counterpoint to Fuentes’ points about Darwin’s racism and sexism, Whiten et al. wrote that,
On sexism, Darwin suggested that education of “reason and imagination” would erase mental sex differences (1, p. 329).
From that sentence, a reader might reason that Darwin wrote about how educating women could make them equal to men in mental powers. And, a reader might imagine that Darwin advocated for such a thing.
Darwin did neither in the cited passage which says,
In order that woman should reach the same standard as man, she ought, when nearly adult, to be trained to energy and perseverance, and to have her reason and imagination exercised to the highest point; and then she would probably transmit these qualities chiefly to her adult daughters. The whole body of women, however, could not be thus raised, unless during many generations the women who excelled in the above robust virtues were married, and produced offspring in larger numbers than other women. As before remarked with respect to bodily strength, although men do not now fight for the sake of obtaining wives, and this form of selection has passed away, yet they generally have to undergo, during manhood, a severe struggle in order to maintain themselves and their families; and this will tend to keep up or even increase their mental powers, and, as a consequence, the present inequality between the sexes. (1, p. 329)
There is no hope for women and, by the end, Darwin is back on about how men are superior and suggests that they may evolve to be even more so.
It took extraordinary imagination to read that passage from Descent of Man and present it casually in Darwin’s defense as Whiten et al. did.
Now that’s a distorting treatment.
Professor of Anthropology
University of Rhode Island
(1) Darwin, C. R. 1871. The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray. Volume 2. 1st edition, page 329: http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?keywords=imagination%20and%20reason&pageseq=346&itemID=F937.2&viewtype=text