College of Charleston senior Robin Golphin said her family was concerned when she changed her major from psychology to women's and gender studies.

Woman in S.C. politics

S.C. Senate-1 woman out of 46 senators, or 2 percent

S.C. House-21 women out of 124 representatives, or 17 percent

Statewide offices

Elected executives-1 woman out of 9 officials, or 11 percent

U.S. Senators-0 women out of 2 senators, 0 percent

U.S. Represenatives-0 women out of 7 representatives, 0 percent

They understood the more traditional path of majoring in psychology, she said, but it was hard to explain her new major to them. When they think of a feminist, she said, "they think of a bra-burner with hairy legs."

But the women and men at the college's "Yes! I'm a feminist" event Tuesday knew that a feminist is so much more than that. The event was a fundraiser for the school's Women's and Gender Studies Program. The party was held in the atrium of the School of Sciences and Mathematics and attended by several hundred people, including about 200 hosts representing a variety of political and social beliefs and professions.

Program director Alison Piepmeier said feminism isn't a scary word. "Feminism is a movement to eradicate all forms of oppression that keep people from achieving their full humanity. It's not just about women - it's about making the world better for all of us."

Charlie Thomas, another senior, said he also has had to explain why he chose to major in women's and gender studies. "I tried a lot of things," he said, "and this was the only thing I found I enjoy doing."

But a lot of people don't understand his choice, he said. "They think feminism is about bashing men," he said. But it's really about fairness and equality.

"It's not about putting down. It's about bringing up."

Piepmeier said she thought the event would bring in about $20,000. The money will be used for student presentations and research, community building activities, and faculty grants. Women's and gender studies overlaps with other academic disciplines, she said, so the money raised will foster academic activities across the campus.

It's the second year the event has been held, Piepmeier said. The theme was chosen to encourage people to think about and have conversations about what they believe, she said.

Callie Shell, a photographer and a member of the Women's and Gender Studies community board, said the program and the event are ways to promote equality for all people.

"A lot of people get scared when they hear the word feminist," she said. She wants to be part of educating them about what it really means.

Jennet Robinson Alterman, a consultant and former executive director of Charleston's Center for Women, said the program is important. "Any program that encourages women to empower themselves is important," she said. In the South, programs such as the college's Women's and Gender Studies Program are fairly new.

And encouraging women to pursue leadership positions also is important, especially in South Carolina, she said.

Right now, there is only one woman in the state Senate, Katrina Frye Shealy, R-Lexington. And Gov. Nikki Haley is the only woman serving in a statewide elected office.

But women don't need to run for a political office to hold a leadership position, Alterman said. They can make a difference by getting involved in groups like the PTA or other community organizations. "Grassroots movements usually are started by women."

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.