DeMarcasa Dunmore stood in front of the camera, took a deep breath and delivered her three-minute speech, extolling the virtues of women today.

"Truly the woman of the '80s was never thought of in the '40s or the '50s because the man was to be the head." Now, she said, roles have changed. "Never underestimate the knowledge or the ability of a woman. Women are leaders."

Dunmore, 14, and 26 other teen-age girls from the metropolitan area were polishing the techniques of public speaking during a videotaping session at Mount Vernon College in Northwest. Their topic: "Thoughts and Views of Women Leaders."

"As men probably don't know, we have been leaders since the beginning of time," said Betsy Hill, 16, of the District. "Who enticed Adam to eat the apple? Leadership . . . think about it."

"There is as much to learn from a woman who is president of a major corporation as there is to learn from a middle-class mother," Lisa Wiltrout of Wheaton told her peers.

Sabrina Tolson, 16, of Laurel argued that "women have one major problem: society's outlook on the old-fashioned woman." Cooking, having babies and staying home are still looked upon as the "proper" things for women to do, she said.

The session was part of a five-day Teen Leadership Conference at the college, designed to provide leadership experience through participation and example. The aspiring leaders, ages 14 to 17, came together to discover their strengths and weaknesses, learn about one another and taste a slice of the "real" world.

That real world, one girl said, is "when you really get out and support yourself."

The girls were selected for the conference based on leadership and merit at their schools and community organizations. The students were a cross section of area teen-age girls. They came from public and private schools, Catholic, Jewish and Protestant faiths. Some were wealthy, some were poor, but most were in-between.

Their role models were just as diverse: Coretta Scott King, Harriet Tubman, Geraldine Ferraro, Rosa Parks, Nancy Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Winnie Mandela.

Kemaiye Cook, 15, of the District said she likes talk show host Oprah Winfrey because she is "a strong-minded person who takes control," and Antoinette Foster, 17, of the District reminded everyone that "Florence Nightingale proved that nurses can be more than bandage-wrapping bruise healers." But most of the girls said their favorite role model is their mother.

Despite the differences, they have one thing in common. They are teen-agers with problems and concerns over some very adult issues, such as sex, drugs, disease, men, parents and divorce. And, according to all the girls, college is their next step, so the concern is about careers and education more often than not.

Barbara Gorski, conference director and dean of students at Mount Vernon, said she is "struck by the incredibly hard life teens are going through." Teens today have a lot more to worry about, she said.

During one of their many informal discussions, the girls turned to the subject of materialism and fads.

"If you don't have on your gold and your {designer} jeans, you are looked down upon at my school," said Hill, who thinks the sloppy look is cool and said she has been shunned because she is different.

Rhonda Burrows of the District said students at her school, Woodson High, call people "off-brands" when they don't wear designer clothes.

Dunmore said some people their age don't have their priorities straight. "Having nice clothing and getting their hair done is more important," she said.

Sex is too high on the priority list, especially for men, many of the girls said. "There's so much talk about teen-age sex. We need to be educated, but not preached {to}," Hill said.

Antoinette Kitchen of the District said the pressure on teens not to have sex is making them curious about having it.

The war on drugs, most of them said, just isn't working. "They need to show the real gruesome side in commercials instead of advertising 'Just Say No,' " Hill said.

The subject of divorce brought tears to one girl's eyes, and another said she will never expect a marriage to work. Several of them had tales of their own parents' divorce, tales that brought more tears and hugs from around the room.

Mary Lafferty, the college's communications director, said the conference, in its fourth year at the school, is based on the "strong belief that girls in their middle teens need training and reinforcement in self-awareness and decision-making to overcome barriers facing them in the adult world."