Interesting and colored as the word's origin may be "Feminism" is absolutely the correct way to describe gender equality. No matter how it started feminism has evolved into being intersectional -even though everyone hasn't quite adapted past white Feminism- and Feminist activists fight not just for the first world, not simply for white women, nor merely for straight women; Feminism is a fight for equal treatment that fights for women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. In turn, Feminism also fights for men because misogyny that demonizes the female gender is harmful to men, women, transgender and nonbinary individuals.
The backlash against using "Feminism" as the moniker for the movement that started out fighting for women's rights and today uses that background as a platform for advocating gender equality for every individual-is gendered in and of itself. How, you ask? Even when inspiring women like Meryl Streep claim to be "Humanists" as an alternative to calling themselves "Feminists"? Words like "Humanist" and "Equalist" are used by those who seem to greatly miss the point of Feminism. Humanists, Equalists, Egalitarians, and the like seem to think that the words they use are more inclusive, but erasing the fact that this is about gender and one that has been heavily oppressed for centuries, would be taking away the history behind the movement and thus make it far less meaningful. I personally look especially unfavorably on the "Humanist" alternative, because it attempts to add on to an existing philosophical movement that has nothing to do with gender equality and in fact many famous Humanists from the Renaissance had arguably misogynistic writings such as John Milton's Paradise Lost, and Cervantes' Don Quixote.
The underlying reason behind the need felt by many to shy away from "the F-word" is pretty clear once one takes the time to look beyond a superficial perspective of gender equality, and that reason would be latent misogyny. Latent misogyny affects men and women throughout the whole world. It is the result of a society in the U.S. and beyond built on demonizing women. This is the actuality behind transphobia, homophobia, and hate and discrimination towards agender and nonbinary individuals. Yes, those are nuanced issues and there is more depth to it, but the majority of the logic behind gender inequality is latent misogyny. Anything deemed feminine in the slightest is demonized the way that women have been throughout history. Men are ostracized and harassed every day for being seen as having effeminate qualities, sometimes because that would be an indicator that they didn't adhere to heteronormative values and were perceived to be gay, other times because any effeminate quality that doesn't equal macho manly things like enjoying sports, wrestling bears, or taking out the garbage are bad because women are less and therefore bad.
Many prefer not to call themselves Feminists not because they have an alternative they prefer that misses the point of Feminism and/or has nothing to do with gender equality, but because they've either seen Feminism largely as misandry or miss the point of the movement started by women for everyone all on their own. If I had a nickel for every "I am not a Feminist" post on Facebook by a woman that I've seen, I would have enough money to crowdfund a campaign to get those poor naïve individuals enrolled in a gender studies and history class. Of course, if one does not advocate gender equality that is their prerogative, albeit with negative consequences to their character. What's most important to realize for these individuals is that the definition of Feminism does not change no matter who you see representing it. Even if it's a misandrist-misandry being the sexist and oppressive treatment of men- the equality behind feminism does not change. The word is not the issue. The ideology occasionally is. True Feminism is intersectional and recognizing that is the key to avoiding harmful and frankly unnecessary rhetoric such as "I am not a Feminist/ I do not need Feminism" and "I am not a Feminist I am a Humanist/Equalist/Egalitarian". Rights for all should not and is not mutually exclusive with advocating for rights for women and those who are disenfranchised and wronged when it comes to gender equality as a whole.
Feminism is nothing to be scared of as a concept or as a word. Unless one is scared by gender equality in which case that would be a blight on their character, but at least they would be educated on the issue and up front about their bias and hate. The key is education and not any assumptions. Examining all of the reasons that individuals shy away from gender equality and feminism is an important step in reaching true gender equality for all.