“I’ve called you all here to dismantle the Patriarchy.”- Kelly Sue Deconnick
6 months ago I was sitting on the floor next to my desk, staring at our shop copy of the Bitch Planet trade and a couple pairs of our #BitchPlanet leggings. When I imagined them on people, it was on a parade of people celebrating together, tearing down the patriarchy with their bare hands. Like the comic, it was loud and in my face. The design itself is much more subtle though. A pretty, repeating pattern that we’ve come to call “stealth nerd.” When I wear them out, I only get approached by people “in the know”. “Do you read Bitch Planet?” they whisper. Usually, no one around us knows what we’re talking about. It feels like we’re in a secret club. It feels cool. Same with the Non-Compliant tattoos. I’ve given more than a couple of knowing nods to someone rocking a NC tattoo. They smile, we giggle. We’re a part of something. We’re in a secret gang. As much as I like the secret club of NC leggings and tattoos, I knew I couldn’t shoot the product subtly or politely. I wrote an email to Kelly and the MilkFed team: “My absolute DREAM shoot would be Kelly Sue amongst a group of fierce ladies looking gorgeous and tough.” I pressed send and suddenly felt very heavy. I braced myself for a gentle let down from an intern. Almost immediately I received a simple reply from Kelly Sue Deconnick: “I’m down.”
A few months later we had assembled a girl gang. There were a lot of moving targets. I wanted to show our product on a range of bodies, because we’re really proud we can do that, but also wanted to create an actual girl gang in spirit. With eight models, and five crew we had a team of 13 badasses coming together for this shoot. Most of them had never met each other before. A couple of them I hadn’t met in real life. I wanted everyone on this shoot to have each other’s back. I spent far too much time worrying that shooting a group of strangers would look just like that: a group of strangers. There is an old sexist trope that women don’t work well together. That we get competitive and will try to outshine one another. That, dear reader, is a large pile of utter bullshit. While shooting, I often heard yelling behind me. I’d turn around and the models would be giving each other piggyback rides, taking selfies and practicing with the butterfly knife. We had created an actual girl gang. They weren’t pretending, they really had each other’s backs. That is one of my favorite side effects of this shoot. Now, I often see these women interacting and supporting each other online. Most of them hadn’t met until this photoshoot, but now they are regulars in each other’s lives. I wasn’t friends with most of these ladies before, but I sure as hell am now.
I didn’t sleep the night before the shoot. I went into work early with a coffee and packed everything, pacing around our factory and triple checking my sloppy pile of lists. Ever on time, my good friend and assistant for the day Stephen showed up with our crime van and helped load everything in. We drank more coffee. We got stuck in traffic. We finally got to the studio and started setting up. The Espionage Cosmetics team rolled in chipper and eager to get started. Our wardrobe assistant Dinah (who is also a printer at Bombsheller and had printed all of the leggings for this shoot) came in and started organizing the jewelry and weapons table. I introduced everyone as they came in. “This is Victoria, she’s a badass Librarian. This is Rodina, she was Miss Ethiopia International.” At some point I got a text that Kelly Sue Deconnick and Kit Cox had arrived. I ran upstairs to meet them. After a tour (“This is the weapons table, pick whatever you like, but please don’t stab yourself or your fellow gang members”) Kelly asked if Kit could join the shoot. I played it cool, but I was excited. That morning – while pacing – I had grabbed an extra pair of leggings, tops and shoes “just in case”. Looking back, I’m pretty sure they were always intended for Kit. She had become my main contact at Team MilkFed and I had grown to adore her quick-witted emails. I took them up to hair and makeup and went back to shooting the madness.
We shot for about 5 hours. Every time a new model was ready, they would descend the steep stairs to deafening cheers and admiration. Finally, everyone was dressed, done up and ready to go. The full girl gang was assembled! We were ready. The whole day had been leading up to this shoot, but we had to be out of the studio in a little over an hour. Our gang was surrounding Kelly and I was rapid fire directing them, “Ivy stand here. Essie come over on this side, oh shit you have the shark knife, okay, stay there. Victoria over on this side, Jessica kneel down by Kelly. Rodina, you’re at the top with the spiked bat…” I went back to my spot by the lights to look at it in frame.
My breath caught. It was too much. For a moment, I couldn’t handle the scene before me. It was exactly what I imagined all those months ago, when I first sent that email “My absolute DREAM would be…” I felt my chest swell and half jokingly told them I needed a moment. Kelly Sue, the gravitational pull at the center of our orbit sat holding the sledgehammer in one hand and the spiked bat in the other. As I looked away she announced
“I’ve called you all here to dismantle the Patriarchy.”
And that’s all I needed. I took a deep breath and lifted my camera again. It’s not every day you get to shoot Kelly Sue and her girl gang, and if there is anything I’ve learned from being around these women that day, it’s that you don’t flinch around a gang of badass women.
The behind the scenes photos I’ve included in this blog post were shot by Stephen Klise. Because all of our team was amazing (and because I love Instagram) I’m going to include their handles here. If you haven’t seen the Bitch Planet look book, check out the final product here. If you would like to discuss your own girl gang or send me some sweet gifs I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over and Out,