Mariam Goraya on being “Naik Parveen”

  • 14 Sep - 20 Sep, 2019
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Interview

Many of us have encountered a naik parveen at some point in our lives. If Pakistan was to have its own version of Urban Dictionary, the definition would go like, “a superciliously misogynist woman, product of a patriarchal society who normalises casual sexism and harbours a toxic relationship of herself (and womankind) being subversive to men.” Yes, I just made that up, but you get the idea. Bringing this very-real and controversial character to life is Mariam Shafqat Goraya – who under the disguise (a makeshift towel-veil) teased out a stigma deeply encrypted in a society already rigged against women, that indeed they can be the worst enemy to their kind. Mariam’s hilarious yet thought-provoking videos touch base on different topics drawing glares, guffaws and incredulous reflection from everywhere. While feminists praised her, the real naik parveens and misogynist men hurled curses and abuses her way. Rising to a status of a social media stars of the sorts, her follower’s curiosity was quenched one day, when she finally revealed her name and face on a live telecast. MAG talks to Mariam Goraya about her character which is as real as it gets.

Most of us know naik parveen, but who is Mariam Goraya? Tell us something about yourself.

I am a Ph.D. student in Hamburg, and contrary to the popular opinion that only a single or divorced woman can say the things I do, I am married to a guy who is not doing me a ‘favour’ by behaving like a normal human being.

What inspired the disguise of Naik Parveen?

The character of naik parveen has always been there in my head. There is always a naik parveen around you in school or in the family that you’re compared with. It is also about how efficient you are with the household chores. “Look at her not only she is a position holder but she also cooks awesome meals”. The disguise came about after Aurat March, where I felt that I needed to challenge the post-Aurat march discourse.

Why did you feel necessary to keep this a ‘disguise’ and keep things incognito?

Covering my face with a toliya and giving myself a generic name was intentional. It symbolises that women in our society are not encouraged to have a voice or identity of their own. She is identified by her kids or her husband or her father. The towel as veil is intentional because I don't want to give any legitimacy to traditional burqa, since I know that women are capable of upholding oppressive norms without wearing one as well. Therefore I am making a point that it’s a tool of oppression, there is a whole package of oppressive lifestyle that comes with it.

Naik Parveen’s take on casual sexism, patriarchal ‘values’ and misogyny is hilarious. How do you ensure that each video that you make conveys a message while keeping things humorous?

I do not make videos only to make people laugh, in fact my primary purpose is to make one feel offended and angry first (for all the right or wrong reasons), and maybe laugh later on. My twin sister Amna, is deeply involved in the creative process in terms of scripts, theme and dialogues, we often shoot a video together on Skype, so content wise it’s not just me at the backend.

You have amassed quite a following on the Internet. What sort of reactions do you get from misogynist men and women at large?

Misogynist men who quickly understand the agenda behind my videos resort to hurling abuse, shaming me or try to mansplain what actual feminism is or how the women should be feeling about these things. There is also a type that regularly justifies their superiority and privilege by referring to religious texts. Some men think I am being literal and there have been times when I got a message praising me for taking their side. For some, it takes a while to realise that the satire is on misogyny before they hit the unlike and unfollow button.

Who is Naik Parveen to you? Is she a reflection, a product and a member of the society – a misogynist woman who is either misinformed or ignorant about her own rights and values? How would you define the character?

Women in Pakistan and more generally in any patriarchal society have been normalising, justifying and even romanticising blatant and subtle acts of misogyny in-order to win brownie points from the men and society they rely on for economic and social status. It's not a coincidence that the word ‘choice or merzi’ sounds nice only when it's in tune with men who benefit from patriarchy left right and centre.

You would find men praising women who “chose” to wear a veil or who chose to quit careers and decide to become housewives. But, why do we get such massive allergic reactions to the the words “meri merzi” when it is about a woman choosing to take off her scarf, getting divorced, refusing to cook for 10 people, speaking her mind, not having children, wearing whatever she wants? Where does the ‘merzi’ go then?

Why did you choose to lift this disguise during live television one day? Was it planned or spontaneous?

It was planned – lifting the disguise was to point out that I am not being pressured or forced to hide my face, I can take it off whenever and wherever I feel like it. Going incognito was how the character developed organically, but I decided to show up with the real me later on because I wanted the people to also see that I am not personally hiding myself, merely because my content is controversial. There were in fact a few people suggesting that I am a coward for saying these things behind the towel-burqa, because probably rarely anyone has the guts to say it openly.

Does Naik Parveen in anyway reinforce that fact that often, women are their own enemies? And are even hazardous to other women around them?

I don't think the educated middle class woman is weak or lacks the means or exposure to think. So yeah, my problem does begin with the housewives, and not just the older women, the ones that I went to school and college with, when they actively become a part of the same patriarchal cycle.

Which bunch is worse – misogynist men or misogynist women?

I think they both complement each other, both misogynist men and women are upholding a certain status-co which they think is status quo benefitting society as a whole. Misogynist women find it easier to live a non-confrontational and submissive life, and misogynist men obviously find this arrangement extremely beneficial since it’s exists solely to serve their interests. Misogynist women, usually uphold holier-than-thou attitudes to earn brownie-points and bring other women down. •