In some circles, “feminist” is almost synonymous with a mean woman, someone cold and harsh who doesn’t care about your feelings. That stereotypical cold-hearted feminist certainly isn’t who I am; if anything, I care too much about others’ feelings. Furthermore, as Catholic feminists, that isn’t who we are. We are called to love — specifically, to practice the virtue of charity - and love isn’t for the faint of heart.

Charity is “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822). The Catechism goes on to explain that “charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ ... [and] demands beneficence and fraternal correction” (CCC 1824 & 1829, emphasis added).

Living out the virtue of charity isn’t the same as “being nice,” and my feminism recently helped me navigate a situation in which I had to realize that the most loving thing to do was not the most gentle option.

Living out the virtue of charity isn’t the same as “being nice.”

Until this moment, I had always believed (as I have been implicitly taught by the culture around me) that if I am accommodating, friendly, and “nice” enough, I will be treated well. This belief means that I risk being treated well when I speak up to defend myself. As a result, I have learned to be careful about doing so.

One day, I ordered groceries through a delivery app. I’m always a little bit on my guard when I do this, because I am often home alone with two little kids, I look very young, and I’m visibly pregnant. Some men who encounter me in this situation — the boiler repair man, the mailman, the neighbors — are inclined to be condescending (I hope unintentionally so). I simply don’t fit their idea of a smart, strong, adult peer.

When a delivery man arrived at my home with the groceries, I asked him to please leave them outside the house and said I’d bring them in myself. He protested and tried to walk into my house. I raised my voice slightly and asked him again, “No, I really need you to leave them here on the porch.” He protested again, I insisted again, and he finally put the bags down. I was frustrated and flustered by that point. As I hurried to empty the bag he needed back, I felt him put his hand on my shoulder. He was standing behind me, which I hadn’t even realized.

“Slow down!” he said, “There’s no rush! I would never rush anybody.”

I wanted to tell him not to touch me, but my toddler was there, and I didn’t know how the man would react. Instead, I jumped away, rushed through the rest of the bags, and hurried him out the door. And then locked it and shuddered.

I told myself, “He was just trying to be nice,” and that might be true. At the same time, I don’t need to know what his intentions were in order to know that it’s not OK for a stranger to touch me without my permission — especially when he has already shown some level of disrespect for my “no.”

It happened, and I didn’t like it, and I was ready to move on with my day when the app asked me to rate the service I’d received. I wondered, “What’s the loving thing to do here?”

All of the training I’d received from the culture told me that he should receive the usual five stars and a tip. I’m well aware that people who make money through these delivery apps generally aren’t well off and don’t have the same benefits that others receive through their jobs. They’re at the mercy of a system that doesn’t need to pay them a fair wage, since there are plenty of other people waiting for the same work.

I started to wonder whether love isn’t as simple as I’d been told. I do have a duty to act with love and mercy, not on an impulse of revenge — and this duty extends to all people, not just the ones in front of me. What was my duty, in love, to the people this boundary-pushing person would serve in the future? My duty was to love them, too, which means that this individual’s feelings couldn’t be my priority.

I started to wonder whether love isn’t as simple as I’d been told.

The sweet, nice, gentle, non-confrontational thing to do would have been to shake it off, make an excuse, and send him away with a high rating. Furthermore, that would have been the easiest thing for me, too, because I’ve developed a lifelong habits of not rocking the boat. I struggle with confrontation. I’ve heard all my life that my voice is less important than other people’s comfort and that my right to respect for my body only exists so long as it doesn’t step on anyone else’s toes. When it’s a choice between my own boundaries and somebody else’s comfort, I should do the “nice” thing and laugh it off. No one likes an uptight woman, right?

That day, I realized that those habits are built on fear, not on love — fear of being perceived as overreacting or inflexible. I don’t want to be fearful; I want to be brave, and choosing love is always the most courageous choice.

I gave him a low rating and a direct note: “It’s never okay to touch another person’s body without permission; it made me extremely uncomfortable. It’s not okay to ignore somebody’s request that you not enter their home. It’s important to me that you know to not do that again.”

Building these habits takes time, so hopefully, I’ll find the voice to say that to someone in person, should there be a next time. For now, though, that day was a big step in the right direction.

I assume that he read the note and thought, “Good grief, I was just trying to help! I was just trying to be nice!” But we don’t need more niceness in the world; we need more love. Love isn’t always comfortable, but it is always the answer.

Love isn’t always comfortable, but it is always the answer.

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Anna O'Neil

Anna O'Neil likes cows, clouds, and the color yellow, and not necessarily in that order. She writes regularly for Aleteia and elsewhere around the internet, and lives by the motto that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

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