I read Green Girl because Roxane Gay discusses it in her book of essays, Bad Feminist, and I liked what she had to say about it.
Roxane Gay says that this book captures the performance of femaleness. I related very much to the idea that being a woman is performative, especially when we are young.
Women are taught that the definition of woman is something very specific and that it is our jobs to control any aspect of ourselves that does not fit that definition. This includes physical expectations (our appearance—hair, skin, body size, etc.), social expectations (how we must behave), and intellectual expectations (how smart we’re allowed to be).
Every woman must find a way to reconcile her own individual self with the acceptable version of “girl” that is presented to us from toddlerhood. I think this leads to the dreaded, “I’m not like other girls,” or “I don’t like other women.” We’re taught that “girls” are only one thing, but we don’t see ourselves as that thing. Young women are so indoctrinated into the definition that they even struggle to see one another as more than the limited “girl” definition. However, no one is “like other girls” because the ideal “girl” that is presented to us is so narrowly defined that no one can possibly meet all the standards of that definition.
For many, the standard definition is so dumb, helpless, and vapid, that it drives many girls away from any association with her. Some women become enraged when we see things that we’ve associated with the “girl” stereotype, such as the color pink or any display of female vulnerability.
In Green Girl, the protagonist, Ruth, uses her beauty as both a shield and as a ticket into a more privileged world. The narrative is so colored by Ruth’s perspective that the book’s setting felt surreal to me. It is gritty with a lot of rough edges, like it was meant to read like an art film. It isn’t clear to me if this it is pretentious, a representation of Ruth’s emotional state, or a way to mask poor technical skills. Personally, I enjoyed Zambreno’s style.
In the story, we see that Ruth’s beauty is both an advantage and a disadvantage. We see that she plays the role of “girl” because she’s been told that this is how she can earn her place in society. The closer she adheres to the standards, the more she is given. Then, we see how the role she has inhabited was never created to serve her. It was made to exploit her.