In Sheryl Sandberg's book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," the Facebook chief operating officer writes about how she shunned the word feminist in her undergraduate years at Harvard University. Even though she believed in gender equality and even started a group to encourage more women to study business and economics, she didn't like the negative caricature of the humorless, man-hating woman.

Now, she embraces it and is leading a national dialogue to get people to love the label and everything it stands for again. We asked women around the Bay Area to comment on the word "feminist" and what it means to them. Here is a sample of responses.

"My views of feminism have changed since I joined the International Justice Mission at UC Berkeley. I want to fight for equality for all women, especially in countries like India and China where they have fewer basic rights. I'm passionate but not as passionate as what I'd call a feminist."

-- Shubnum Gill, 20, Berkeley

"As a follower of Christ I believe in a God that identifies with the weak, vulnerable and oppressed. Women do fall into that category but I personally believe we can move beyond women and focus more on all vulnerable people."

-- Elizabeth Khouri, 19, Berkeley

"For most people the problem with that word is the negative connotation. Do we have to claim a word? The problems I attack aren't just based on gender but race and class, like the fact that the largest growing population of inmates is black women but no one is talking about that."

-- Mikela Topey, 18, Berkeley

"I'm definitely a feminist. All it means is claiming equal rights for women. It's about being a woman of power and showing that to other women."

-- Rebecca Lee, 21, Berkeley

"I don't think I'm necessarily a feminist. To me it sounds negative. I'm an equalist.

-- Elizabeth Newell, 33, Hayward

"It is a word that has a negative connotation. There is no man-ist. I think it was a word to help women push themselves. Women have come so far. I am liberated."

-- Ulkar Qazen, 34, San Ramon

"I think if you asked most women right now they'd say they're for equal rights but not necessarily feminists. They do feel they have to be very aggressive to get ahead in business. I remember crying once at work and my female boss warned me never to do that again if I wanted to get ahead."

-- Steffanie Bledsoe, 33, Sacramento