It’s so easy to point out the story about Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw’s nail polish drama and really lay it on.

“So in one of her first official actions as top cop, Outlaw changed the rule to allow for more stylish nails,” one commenter said.

Let me tell you something: This brouhaha is hardly about black nail polish, or red polish, or any polish, for that matter. It’s about control. And Outlaw, who at 43 has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years, knew it.

On her first day, Outlaw showed up to work in black nail polish. And police officer after police officer — all her subordinates, mind you — thought it was their role to point out that this was in violation of the department’s directive on appearance, which allowed only clear polish.

Danielle Outlaw, new Philadelphia Police Commissioner, talks with reporters at the Philadelphia Police Department on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Outlaw is the first black woman to lead the 6,500-member department.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Danielle Outlaw, new Philadelphia Police Commissioner, talks with reporters at the Philadelphia Police Department on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Outlaw is the first black woman to lead the 6,500-member department.

Sounds to me like these officers wanted to put her in her place. So Outlaw made the ultimate boss-woman move and changed the rule, making room for herself — and others — because she could.

Do with your nails what you want, ladies.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Outlaw told my colleague Chris Palmer Wednesday afternoon that the nail polish she wore this week had been among the last things on her mind her first day on the job. And, she thoughtfully added, although the action might have seemed narrow, it reflects a broader change she believes is needed in policing.

“It’s the small things that allow us to feel not only welcome, but supported,” Outlaw said. “It’s one thing to recruit me and say, ‘Oh, yes, we want you.’ But if there’s no support system in place to say, ‘Not only do [we] want you, but we celebrate you and we recognize that you bring [something] different’ ... we’re not going to get the people that we say we want.”

That means women, people!

Outlaw’s act supports women. And it’s not just for cosmetic purposes. She supports how police women choose to express their womanhood, or not. She’s drawing a line about what is, or isn’t, an important measure of professionalism. When a woman, like any person, is comfortable in her own skin, she will work better.

For far too long, women have been forced to submit to male workplace norms, especially those who serve in the military or in law enforcement. First responders and transit workers are often subject to dress codes that equate any expression of femininity with weakness.

Defenders say we need uniformity because it’s key to maintaining authority within the ranks and with the public. But that uniformity has been built around a male body.

This is the issue with dress codes. In nearly every walk of life, women’s bodies are policed because of the fear of how men will react to them. If women’s hemlines are too short, for example, they will not be taken seriously. In many rooms, women aren’t allowed to choose what they want to wear based on how they feel.

When women speak up, we are chastised for worrying about things that are “trivial" and “not important.” These arguments rob us of our voice in traditionally male environments.

Well it’s 2020 now. We share the space. Men shouldn’t be distracted by our legs or our hair or our nail polish. And to suggest that a woman who wears black nail polish or back-length dreadlocks or red lipstick can’t do her job well is poppycock. I bet she’ll do it better.

This rule change isn’t throwing out the uniforms that officers wear every day. But in this one seemingly silly directive, Outlaw protected women’s right to self-expression. And that is a story. In a single move, she gave women on her force a little bit more freedom to sit in their own truth. Because when we have agency over our bodies in the workplace, it’s easier to use our voices to defend ourselves against things like sexual harassment. Last I heard, that is an issue in the Police Department.

Outlaw’s first order of business is protecting herself and her officers.

The result is that they will better protect us.

I’m here for that.