Changing informal institutions via mimesis: gender equality in marriage proposals

Hoelscher, Vera; Khanijou, Ratna and Pirani, Daniela. 2023. Changing informal institutions via mimesis: gender equality in marriage proposals. Gender, Work and Organization, 30(1), pp. 52-67. ISSN 0968-6673 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Marriage equality has exposed how the institution of marriage is changing, but less attention has been given to how informal institutions around heterosexual marriage rituals are affected by a growing demand for gender equality. By applying institutional theory and feminist institutionalism to the context of women proposing to their male partners, this paper observes how shifts in gender norms change heteronormative institutions. Drawing from interviews with women who proposed to men and a virtual ethnography, we describe how reverse proposals can set precedence for emulation of practices, or mimetic isomorphism. We therewith contribute to institutional theory in threefold ways. First, we describe how mimetic isomorphism introduces new standards and norms into a highly traditional institution. Second, we show how this integration of new standards and norms serves this patriarchal institution to remain relevant and appear progressive. Finally, we contend that this tension of joining a patriarchal institution but doing so in a subversive manner represents a double bind for women who are encouraged by society to formalise their heteronormative relationships through marriage and yet chastised for initiating this themselves.

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Data Availability Statement: The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions.


institutional theory; heteronormative; marriage; ritual; feminist institutionalism; gender equality; mimesis; relationships

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute of Management Studies


24 August 2022Accepted
21 September 2022Published Online
January 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

13 Sep 2022 14:50

Last Modified:

12 Jan 2023 13:58

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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