Robbie Jones is an actor, athlete, entrepreneur, and—I’m fortunate to say—one of my close friends. So he was at the top of my list of people I wanted to talk with about health and masculinity.
He’s an amazing artist, an incredible family man, and a regular source of inspiration to me for how he gracefully balances his personal life, family and work with genuine integrity and lightheartedness.
I had the chance to catch up with him recentlt, and we talked about his take on manhood and all things frens(he). Check it out. —Chris
Chris French: What would you say masculinity means to you?
Robbie Jones: That’s an interesting question because it could look like a whole bunch of different things. I think what it looks like [for me] is providing for my family. I feel like my family is my responsibility.
I want to be an example for them. I feel like that’s masculine. Being a man for me is being an example of an honorable person, an honest person, and a man of God. All of that is how I see masculinity, but the flip side of this coin is I can’t tell someone else how to be masculine.
Every time I’ve tried to think about this, I either come up with a different answer for that or someone challenges my answer and I go, “Oh, yeah, wait…”
That’s why I can only give my response for what it means for me specifically, but for the next person it can mean something completely different—and they’re entitled to that. I think it’s very much a personal journey for each man to go through. I have an amazing father, who was a great role model for me growing up, but you’re always learning.
Has that view changed over time?
It definitely has changed over time because societal norms have changed over time. We’re a product of our parents until we have our own experiences. As much as there’s a foundation and amazing blueprint, I had to make my own versions of all that stuff.
What would you say is core to some of the relationships that you’ve had with other men?
With my best friend, Maurice, I think the core thing to our relationship has just been consistency, dependability, and honesty with each other. I feel like that’s how I judge any real close friendships, based on that bar that was set by my closest friends. I have a whole bunch of friends, but I only have maybe 10 to 15 people that I’m good friends with.
In what ways does masculinity play out in your respective work life?
I have a young face, and there’s nothing I can really do about that. It’s a very interesting thing for me to try to either get my body in a certain way that looks more imposing, or try to do voice inflections that take me to a lower register or whatever. I’ve done all kinds of things on the job to fit the bill.
Yeah, that’s tricky.
It applies differently to me. Certain roles, for as long as we can remember, have only been filled by a certain build, a certain voice, a certain tone, a certain skin color, or a certain makeup. Then they’re exaggerated for the screen.
I like to think that I’m constantly trying to do that with a lot of aspects of my life: Just trying to be a little more well-rounded person.Robbie Jones
I wonder if masculinity has any characteristics that you’ve observed, especially as a Black man?
Everybody has their own unique experience with masculinity and what that means to them and how they express it. But in the industry and on screen, there’s definitely an expression of Black masculinity that people have become accustomed to seeing. That’s a bigger conversation, but I don’t have the answers for that.
So many men struggle to fit into that box of “classical masculinity” or “classical manhood” and a lot of men feel like less of a man if they can’t financially provide for their family. Those social constructs were created a long time ago, and they don’t apply to the reality of the situation anymore.
The definition of true masculinity, whatever that means, is becoming a lot more fluid because it includes everybody’s expression of that. There’s this idea that if you’re a man, then you better be able to protect whoever’s standing next to you. But on the flip side, it’s not always a bad thing to feel like you do need to protect your family or the people around you. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but you shouldn’t feel the overwhelming pressure to be destructive to everybody around you in an effort to do that.
Man, this is just the definition of toxic masculinity, right?
I’m honest enough with myself to say that just saying that, there’s a miniature war going on in my head because everything that I’ve ever known, and everything I’ve ever been taught, is in line with those thoughts. There is this baseline idea of what this “man” does and how men handle situations. And it’s hardwired into me. A lot of it is unlearning things. It’s been a constant process for me.
I think what’s commendable is when people decide, “Hey, maybe the way I’m doing it isn’t right. Let me learn what other people’s perspectives are and let me formulate a perspective based on actual facts as opposed to these opinions that I’ve been taught.”
I like to think that I’m constantly trying to do that with a lot of aspects of my life: Just trying to be a little more well-rounded person.
That really accounts for the differences in conditioning, too. One of the things that are really characteristic of masculinity is not really having many options—at least marketed toward us—in regards to how we can take care of ourselves. Do you have any particular things that you really rely on and that you would recommend to other guys?
My way to feel personally accomplished, and to feel like I’m taking care of myself, revolves around working out. Mentally, it’s all connected for me because if I look good, then I feel good. The better I take care of myself, I feel the better everything in my life is. When I’m looking good and feeling good health-wise, I feel like I’m able to be more present and more active and available mentally and physically to everyone in my life.