A NEW generation of women has set out to prove they can rock out with as much impact as any man. Commercially, the most popular women have been Pat Benatar, Heart's Nancy Wilson and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde. Musically, the most successful have been Hynde, Robin Lane and ycarolyne Mas.

For obvious sociological reasons, few women have ventured into this territory of sexually have found the realms of art-rock, country-rock and folk-rock more comfortable. For those women who are now entering the terrain of grinding guitars and exposed tonsils, the challenge is to develop a persona that is erotic, assertive, confessional and credible all at the same time.

On her third and latest album, Pat Benatar is still trying to pass off her persona of the teasing, posing vamp as the new woman. It still doesn't work. Carolyne Mas' new album further refines her Bruce Springsteen imitation. She's gotten as far as Southside Johnny has; she has the excitement but not the content. The best news on the female rock front is Holly Stanton's debut album. It approaches Robin Lane's work, which is the best of the genre.

When Pat Benatar -- a former Richomnd lounger singer -- embraced hard rock, she embraced the schlocky heavy metal end of the spectrum and all the adolescent male fantasies that go along with it. Rather than transforming those fantasies into her own, she fed them with pinup photo poses, submissive lyrics and teasing vocals. Benatar wears leotards so tight you can see the outlines of her thigh freckles. Her biggest hit was the epitome of masochism: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

All these factors mar her new album, "Precious Time" (Chrysalis, CHR 1346). From Ria Lewerke-Shapiro's cheesy cover to boyfriend and lead guitarist Neil Geraldo's macho lyrics, Benatar is cornered into sexist fantasies. Her current single, "Fire and Ice," describes how helplessly she burns and freezes at her man's hot breath and cold shoulder. If there is a rock equivalent to television's jiggle shows, it's Benatar's coyly flirtatious singing.

Benatar -- who will be at the Merriweather Mpost Pavilion the next two Mondays -- has an excellent natural voice, but seems to have no idea of what to do with it. She seems to sing in only two gears: a half-spoken rasp and a full-throttle wail. She is apparently incapable of any emotional unance in between.

This is fine for the fluff written by her and her band; it contains no subtlety to test her. When she attempts an old rock classic -- the Beatles' "Helter yskelter" on this album -- her severe limitations are exposed. She gives the Beatles' joyous romp one of the most humorless, tempo-dragging readings imaginable.

Carolyne Mas' "Modern Dreams" (Mercury, SRM-1-4022) is her third and most successful album yet. When this 25-year-old Long eslander embraced hard rock, she embraced the classical tradition of The Who and Springsteen. The back cover photo of her new album contains references to John Lennon, Bob Marley, the Clash, Pete Townshend and Graham Parker.These are ambitious models, but Mas adopts the legacy of their music as her own, even if she comes up a bit short on the lyric side.

In sharp contrast to Benatar's flirting, teasing approach, Mas' music is filled with honest, healthy lust. "If I feel so strong," she asks, "is it wrong. It's important to me too." She proves just how important it is by leading her band through joyous, melodic dance tunes that rework Phil Spector much as Springsteen's records do. Mas wrote eight of the 10 tunes herself, and she shows a sure sense of how to use melody to put across a romantic monologue. Many of her lines -- such as "Hear your motor runin' steady; look upstairs, 'm almost ready" -- are double entendres that would do the Stones proud.

"Modern Dreams" is a celebration of sex and romance from an assertive woman's perspective, but it could have been much more. Mas' love songs give no hint of the problems that currently haunt male-female relationships or the social context that breeds those problems. Her lyrics are simple catch phrases about love and avoid more complex issues.

On "Temptation" (War Bride, 9004), Holly Stanton tackles conflict between the sexes head on. Though not as sophisticated a lyricist as Chrissie Hynde, Stanton throws out a similarly taunting challenge to men. "What did you expect," Stanton asks her lover, "from someone who's just like you?" Unlike Hynde, Stanton never seeks refuge in cool detachment; she keeps coming with a relentless determination to force problems to a head. She refuses to be dependent or independent; she wants love, but only on an open and equal basis.

Like Benatar, Stanton has a clean, piercing voice that is especially sharp in the upper octaves. Unlike Benatar, Stanton gives each phrase a confessional underpinning. She gives her voice a slight quiver on key syllables without ever slowing her persistent pace. When this 21-year-old San Franciscan sings classics -- the Beau Brummels' "Just a Little" or Los Bravos' "Black Is Black" -- she takes hold of them firmly and gives them the same fierce female persona that lights up her own compositions.