In a survey, nearly half of teenage girls said Donald Trump had affected the way they thought about their bodies. A quarter said Hillary Clinton had made them want to lead.
They are too young to vote, but old enough to follow the news. For teenage girls, this gender bomb of an election is happening just as they are starting to form their identities as young women.
Hillary Clinton has campaigned with a rah-rah message for girls: “Yes, you can be anything you want — even president.” Donald J. Trump’s message to girls has been more, well, complicated. What are girls taking away from the election? Are they inspired or repulsed? To get a sense, we took a national poll and went to two high schools, one in a liberal city and another in a conservative rural county, to talk to teenage girls.
Almost a quarter of girls ages 14 to 17 say that Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy has made them more likely to seek positions of leadership, according to a national online Pollfish poll conducted for The New York Times.
But the more broadly heard message is negative: Nearly half of the girls say Mr. Trump’s comments about women have affected the way they think about their bodies.
The data, analyzed by David Rothschild and Tobias Konitzer of PredictWise and based on a poll of 332 girls, shows a generation of girls raised to believe that women can do anything men can do yet aware that they have not yet. Forty-four percent would definitely or most likely vote for Mrs. Clinton if they were old enough to vote, and 15 percent for Mr. Trump.
The campaign as a whole has inspired almost equal parts ambition and wariness about running for office. Twenty-two percent said Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy had made them more likely to want a leadership position in their careers, while 17 percent said it had made them less likely to want to be a leader. Fifteen percent said Mr. Trump’s candidacy had made them more likely to want a leadership position; 27 percent said the opposite.
At Grant High School in Portland, Ore., girls tended to be reluctant Clinton supporters, having originally been fans of Senator Bernie Sanders. At Sherman County High School, in rural Moro, Ore., east of the Cascade Range where blue Oregon turns red, the girls were divided between the candidate
“Although you’re told from a young age that you can be a president even though you’re a woman, you’ve never been shown you can do it, so this makes girls think they can,” said Jaelyn Justesen, 14, a Clinton supporter in Moro.
Jaelyn, who wants to become a nurse, said Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy had made her think it would be “really cool” to be in a leadership position. “Especially being a woman leader, it would teach younger girls, ‘Hey, I can do this,’ like Hillary is teaching younger girls, ‘I can be president.’ ”
Others said Mr. Trump had inspired them to want to lead, if only to defy sexist comments made by the candidate and his supporters.
“It’s made me want to prove them wrong and show them that women aren’t what you’re saying they are and they can be leaders and they can be strong,” said Jessica Griepenburg, 15, who lives in Portland and wants to be a psychiatrist or a novelist.
None of the girls said they planned to run for office; each said it would be too stressful. They said they wanted to make a difference in more local ways: volunteering, speaking at community events and being a role model for girls in their careers.
In the national poll, almost all the girls had heard Mr. Trump’s comments about women. Forty-two percent said he had affected the way they thought about their bodies, and the same share said the comments had not.
“That hits me hard when people like Trump say people who are skinnier than I am are too big,” said Morgan Lesh, 15, in Moro. “It makes me feel extremely insecure about myself.”
Morgan’s friend Jordan Barrett, 14, agreed with her, even though they disagree on who should win the election.
“Especially for girls in high school, rating girls on a scale of 1 to 10 does not help because it really does get into your head that they think I’m ugly or I don’t look good,” Jordan said.
The girls pay close attention to women in power. Asked who had power, Grant High girls offered mostly celebrities, including Beyoncé, the Kardashian sisters, Miley Cyrus, Oprah, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson and J. K. Rowling. In Moro, they talked about their mothers and grandmothers, and a principal they had had when they were in first grade.
When asked whether gender makes a difference in winning an election or in governing, teenage girls were notably unconcerned.
Eighty-three percent said a candidate’s gender made no difference in running for public office. Of those who disagreed, 7 percent said being a woman helped and 10 percent said being a man helped. Teenage girls had the most consensus on the question of whether gender makes a difference in being a good president: 89 percent said it did not.
Yet in interviews, they seemed to acknowledge that they do not live in an entirely postgender world, something they said Mr. Trump’s candidacy had reinforced.
Daryn Hickok, 16, of Portland, used to tell people she wanted to be “the first girl president.” More recently, in student government, she has encountered sexism.
“I’m a Black Student Union secretary, and sometimes when I say things, boys say, ‘Why would I listen to you?’ ” she said. “Sometimes I’m disrespected because of my gender.”
Watching Mrs. Clinton has made Sarah Hamilton, 17, of Portland, consider politics, or at least being “a boss.” But if Mr. Trump wins, “I really would feel like the leadership in my country doesn’t want me to succeed,” she said. “And even though I know the things he says about women aren’t true, I can’t help but feel disrespected and just kind of bummed out by it.”
In Moro, the girls debated how much Mr. Trump had fed the sexism in his campaign, with comments like “such a nasty woman.”
“I don’t think it was right for him to keep trash talking women,” said Jordan, a Trump supporter. “But the ones toward her are about the choices she has made; he’s not saying that all women are nasty.”
Jaelyn, a Clinton supporter, disagreed. “Women reacted the way they did about it because when you’re attacking one woman,” she said, “you’re attacking all women — because we see each other as sisters.