According to sociologists, one of America’s values is equality. However, people living in American don’t experience equality. When you read these contradictions back to back, they’re prettying confounding. A new study may have some insight as to why this contradiction exists. A poll conducted by PerryUndem Research/Communication for the Ms. Foundation for Women generated new statistics that show the majority of Americans favor social, political, and economic equality of the sexes, but don’t like the word feminism.

The poll reports that only sixteen percent of participants self-identified as feminist, but that figure went up to 52% when participants were offered a definition of feminism: “a belief in political, economic, and social equality across genders.” Some people didn’t self-identify as feminist because they found it too radical or extreme, and others said that equality should be for everyone regardless of gender.

Because these were the top two reasons why participants don’t identify as feminist, it tells me that people still have a strange misconception of feminism and its history. When someone says they aren’t a feminist because they consider it extreme, they may not realize that feminism has had a big role in some of the most important social justice movements in society–and continues to do so today. Feminists have organized to aid the labor movement during the Industrial Revolution, they mobilized during the Civil Rights Movement, and they were imprisoned so that future women could vote. But somehow, the word feminism is still misrepresented as too radical or one sided.

That bad wrap comes from the great misconception about feminism: that it seeks to establish a matriarchy. When someone says they aren’t a feminist because they are for equality, then they don’t actually know what the word feminism means. Yes, feminism seeks to destroy patriarchy. No, feminism does not seek to install matriarchy. Even Meryl Streep–who is playing an actual suffragette in a new film–recently self-identified as a “humanist” when asked if she was a feminist. Okay…since you haven’t benefited from feminists or feminism in the film industry or anything, Ms. Streep. But I guess that makes sense to Meryl, since she doesn’t understand why sporting a shirt that reads, “I rather be a rebel than a slave” is a racist way to support a movie about suffragettes.

Look, if you want to tell me that you aren’t a feminist because of its historical and ongoing problems with intersectionality, then I feel you, and I understand you, because you actually understand what feminism is, have researched it–like a whole lot–and made a reasonable decision based on problematic aspects of the movement. But to tell me you’re a “humanist” because you believe in gender equality in actuality makes no sense. I am not going to hash out the reasons, because many writers already have, and there are some great articles on the topic, like this one, and this one.

Every movement has its problems, and feminism is no different. But one of its problems isn’t redefining itself as something its not, like humanism, or defining itself as radical. It’s pretty easy to defame a movement simply by convincing people it means something it doesn’t. These widespread misrepresentations of feminism only hurt the potential for social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. If we can’t even agree what to call activism for the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes, then how can we achieve it?

Photo by David Goehring