An interesting discussion started to swarm on my Twitter feed (I do also exist in the real world, honestly), between Majeste, Spirit and Chiaroscuro. The sparking point for me was the phrase "feminism v. chivalry". I'm currently paddling in the shallow end of the dating pool, so I've been splashed with enough behaviour to try and unpick our ideas of modern romance and how they are touched with historic themes and motifs.
The idea of chivalric or courtly love comes to us from Eleanor of Aquitaine. There's a good post on it here, along with a dialogue on the changing meaning of the word "lady", the important two facts to note are the apparent hopeless nature of the love and the way in which the love is finally taken. Take the former first. The belle dame sans merci is plied, in secret (or semi-secret) with gifts, poetry etc that demonstrate the desire, passion and drive of her amour. Although she is ostensibly of noble stature, her power only lies in her ability to withhold or deny her lover, as soon as she is taken, physically fucked to be frank, the game is finished. The rose is deflowered.
From this we can see a number of tropes that still float around in our romantic unconsciousness. First, chivalry. This has become a code of honour of sorts, a way that men are "supposed" to behave around the object of their affections, right up to those who practice The Game, though I would hardly call the latter chivalrous. We still teach chivalry, often in the guise of "good manners" - however true politeness should probably not be as gendered as the behaviours we encounter, such as opening doors, holding out chairs, paying for drinks and dinner. They are all things that society expects men to do for women, and they are all types of gift giving, of showing strength (physical or monetary), they cast the male in the role of the provider, and - here is where it gets interesting - in the traditional role of the dominant - control is exerted by removing from the submissive the means to arrange and manage their environment.
However, there are feminine forms of chivalry, a feminine gendered romantic code and system running from the coquette through to The Rules. These ways of behaving are rarely termed "good manners" - an example of where male normative behaviour is codified as human normative behaviour - and are instead simply "flirting" or in cruder, unkinder language "prick teasing". I'm painting in very broad brushstrokes here but generally these patterns are designed to make the female appealing through emphasising softness, prettiness, weakness and reliance on the male in other words submission.
What is striking, is how these "rules" neatly dovetail into the chivalric code: the female withholds her favour (and her cunt) for as long as possible, allowing the male ample opportunity to flush his feathers (and his cash). The two sets of behaviours work with each other. Chivalry cannot happen unless the target is a coquette. You can't offer to pay for someone whose already put their card on the table and is raising an eyebrow at you. They are a power exchange that is enshrined and encouraged, in many respects by our society.
Slowly, painfully slowly, we are seeing an easing of the strict gendered nature of these romantic roles, and what do we get when we strip them bare? For a start, we can get some awkwardness. There is an internal clash of gender identities if rules "normally" ascribed to men are used by women, especially if someone has "pays for dinner" as an important part of their identity as male. Add on top of this standard British politeness rules and there's a lot of embarrassment to be had over the bill.
When we remove the gendered connotations and only look at the behaviours in terms of who is doing what to whom we get a reveal of the power exchange as a D/s dynamic. What is especially interesting, from discussions I have had with people, is that the same physical gesture can have totally different meanings. For some, if you pay for dinner you are dominant - and this would perhaps be the traditional reading of that action. However, for others, taking someone to dinner, arranging everything just so and then paying for it, is an act of submission - you have presented offerings.
Because I am kinky, I tend to see my dating patterns through the smoky coloured lenses of BDSM. This is sometimes complicated by the fact that I am a switch, so for me someone paying for the bill can be either dominant or submissive depending on my relationship to them. Equally, they could just be being nice. As a romantic and a feminist it's actually a lot easier for me to see the world like this (my problem is that other people don't), I would find it difficult if someone was buying me dinner simply because I was a woman and they, as a man, felt it expected of them, or worse, if they thought it was part of their due in order to fuck me. I tend to get around this by dating within kinky circles where I've usually fucked them before we've got to dinner (or at least played with them). Here, we can see how murky it can get, because clearly, once a D/s power exchange is established buying drinks and holding out chairs does become part of the sexual arrangement, ways in which submissives can be good or dominants can be powerful.
These sorts of actions are not as overt in the vanilla dating world, and so instead of dominant and submissive we have their poor, incorrect substitutes male and female. And that is the challenge for kinky feminists - to keep the excitement of D/s and shed the assumption of gender roles within that, leaving them as masks or toys for us to play with when we choose.
Naturally, I'm happy to discuss this further, either in the comments or over dinner. You're buying.